Bee Orchid

©Dawn Monrose

Bee Orchid

Scientific name: Ophrys apifera
The Bee Orchid is a sneaky mimic - the flower’s velvety lip looks like a female bee. Males fly in to try to mate with it and end up pollinating the flower. Sadly, the right bee species doesn’t live here, so this orchid is self-pollinated in the UK.

Species information

Statistics

Height: up to 30cm

Conservation status

Protected in Northern Ireland under the Wildlife Order, 1985.

When to see

June to July

About

The Bee Orchid gets its name from its main pollinator - a species of bee - which is thought to have driven the evolution of the flowers. To attract the bees that will pollinate the plant, it has flowers that mimic their appearance. Drawing them in with the promise of love, the bees attempt a mating. As they land on the velvet-textured lip of the flower, the pollen is transferred and the poor bee is left frustrated. Sadly, the right species of bee doesn't occur in the UK, so Bee Orchids are self-pollinated here. Look out for their diminutive flower spikes on dry, chalk and limestone grasslands from June to July.

How to identify

A small orchid, the Bee Orchid has a rosette of leaves at ground level and two leaves that grow up the stem as a sheath. The stem displays a number of relatively large flowers with pink sepals that look like wings, and furry, brown lips that have yellow markings on, just like a bee.

Distribution

Found throughout the UK, but scarcer in the north.

Did you know?

The Bee Orchid is the county flower of Bedfordshire.

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts manage many grassland habitats sympathetically for the benefit of all kinds of wildlife. Careful grazing with traditional breeds, hay-cutting at the right time and scrub clearance are just some of the ways grasslands are kept in good condition. By volunteering for your local Trust you can help too, and you'll make new friends and learn new skills along the way.