Bee orchid is a self-pollinator by preference but makes exception for one lone male, the solitary bee Eucera for whom it purses a fuzzy bee-shaped lip. The Ophrys' in Ophrys apifera means eyebrow in Greek and this plant raises brows for its curious habits: bee orchid may only flower once in its lifetime. It grows in great numbers some years and then vanishes, reappearing on a whim, along hell strips and industrial wastelands from Portugal to Iran years later. In the UK mutable bee orchid summers along the coastal regions of Wales, on chalky soil heaps in Suffolk or among Chiltern beechwood, where it has been named Bedfordshire's county flower.
Bee Orchid - Photo by Holly Mitchell
Picking this fragrant honey pot is a criminal act, under Section 13 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) to be precise. Orchids must be saved from lusty fanciers, whose passion is at the root of a growing trade. Orchidelirium as it was known Victorian times, or Orchid Fever' in the film Adaptation, is a mania that seizes collectors. Wild orchids are smuggled in suitcases or declared under false names, ending up in the private homes of wealthiest amateurs. Or indeed, may be rescued by a motorist, as the rare bee orchid was this month growing along a motorway in Derby. Spotted just in time for the council to call off its lawnmowers.
Bee Orchid and Common Spotted Orchid - Photo by Holly Mitchell
Words by Kate O'Brien. Editor of The Plant Magazine