Ophrys sphegodes - Early Spider-orchid

Phylum: Magnoliophyta - Class: Liliopsida - Order: Orchidales - Family: Orchidaceae

Ophrys sphegodes - Early Spider Orchid

Above: Ophrys sphegodes on the Dorset coastal cliffs

This orchid is the earliest to appear in the UK despite being at the most northerly reach of its territory. Primarily a Mediterranean species, only time and climate change will tell if it continues to survive and extend its presence there. So variable is the appearance (morphology) of this orchid that at least 12 subspecies (pollinated by different insects) are recognised throughout its territory.


The plant is slender and grows to around 20cm in the UK but can be much taller in other parts of its range - up to 70cm. Each inflorescence carries between 2 - 18 flowers. The sepals and petals are greenish-yellow sometimes marked with reddish-brown.The lip is dark reddish-brown and velvety in appearance. In some specimens there is a narrow border of green-to-yellow around the margin of the lip. The speculum is H-shaped and is a main distinguishing feature of this orchid, although there are one or two subspecies where the mirror is sometimes absent - Ophrys gortynia, for instance.

Early Spider-orchid from Gargano

Early Spider-orchid from the Gargano Peninsula in Italy


From southern England across central and southern Europe as far south as the Mediterranean and east to the Aegean.


Ophrys sphegodes grows in open areas of impoverished grassland and in semi-shaded woodland edges. It requires calcareous substrates.

Flowering times

From March through to the end of April

The specimen at the top of the page was photographed in Dorset in April, and the one at the bottom in the Gargano Peninsula area of southern Italy.

Subspecies on this website:

O. sphegodes subsp. areneola, O. sphegodes subsp.aveyronensis, O.sphegodes subsp. cretensis, O. sphegodes subsp. gortynia, O. sphegodes subsp. mammosa, and Ophrys sphegodes subsp. spruneri

UK Subspecies

In Europe numerous subspecies are described (see above). Two hybrids are known to occur in the UK:
x hybrida is a hybrid with the Fly Orchid Ophrys insectifera, recorded from Kent
x obscura is a hybrid with the Late Spider-orchid Ophrys fuciflora, recorded from Kent.


The genus name Ophrys comes from Greek and means 'eyebrow' - a reference to the hairy fringe of the lip of the flower of many orchids in this genus. The specific epithet sphegodes comes from ancient Greek seems to suggest a wasp-like appearance of the flowers of this orchid.

Reference sources

The Plant List

Henrik AErenlund Pedersen & Niels Faurholdt (2007) Ophrys - The Bee Orchids of Europe; Kew

Anne and Simon Harrap (2005) Orchids of Britain and Ireland; A&C Black

Pierre Delforge (2005) Orchids of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East; A&C Black

Fielding, Turland and Mathew (2005) Flowers of Crete; Kew

If you found this information helpful, we are sure you would also like books on the Wild Orchids of Wales, of The Burren, and of the Algarve. Author-signed copies are available here...

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