Phylum: Magnoliophyta - Class: Liliopsida - Order: Orchidales - Family: Orchidaceae
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.
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.
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.
In Europe numerous subspecies are described (see above). Two hybrids are known to occur in the UK:
Ophrys x hybrida is a hybrid with the Fly Orchid Ophrys insectifera, recorded from Kent
Ophrys 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.
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...