This Pretty Orchid Looks Just Like a Bumble Bee (And It Helps Attract Them, Too!)
Mother Nature, the great trickster. Camouflaging, masquerading, and disguising—it’s all in a day’s work. These might seem like simple charades but there’s more to these nuances of nature than meets the eye. They’re used as decoys, armor, and even attention-seeking signals all typically with one objective in mind: to benefit the species, of course. Perhaps none do it quite so beautifully as the bee orchid.
Bee orchids (ophrys apifera) are characterized by markings that give the illusion of a female bumble bee perched on the flower. The sepals, which are pink, petal-like extensions of the flower, look like wings while the lip (or labellum) mimics the body of a bee. The brown and yellow design, paired with a sweet fragrance, entices the male bees who are deceived into thinking a female bee has landed on the flower. Quite immediately after they land on the plant themselves, they’ll realize the deception but, by then, they’ve already gathered a bit of pollen on their fuzzy bodies that will then be carried along to other plants. Pollination at work.
What might be one of the most interesting facts about this already dazzling example of nature’s cunning, is the fact that this particular orchid variety doesn’t require all the trickery after all. According to Gardening Know How, bee orchids are primarily self-pollinators. And after all that.
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The bee orchid is native to the U.K., where they’re most prevalent. They thrive in grassy areas with lime-rich soil known as chalk grassland. According to British conservation charity Plantlife, they’ve even been known to grow like weeds in some parts of the countryside, blooming in the spring. While bee orchids can be found in Ireland, they’re less prevalent and a protected species under Northern Ireland’s Wildlife Order 1985. You’ll be hard pressed to find them growing naturally in the United States, though a retailer specializing in orchids is a good place to start if you're looking to add one to your collection of intriguing flora.