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Ophrys bombyliflora - Bumblebee Orchid

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

Bumblebee Orchid plant

Above: A short but robust Bumblebee Orchid plant growing in the Algarve

This orchid is widespread throughout the Mediterranean although our experience is that it is less common the further east you travel. In the Algarve region of Portugal it is virtually impossible to miss it because it occurs with such frequency and in great numbers.

Description

Although normally quite a short plant Bumblebee Orchid can grow up to 35 cm in height in places where it is competing with taller plants for light. The flowers have very distinctive and relatively large, oval green sepals and small, triangular petals which are sometimes tinged with a bronze colour. The lip is three-lobed and brownish in colour sometimes with a bluish speculum although this is not always present - see below. This ophrys species is unmistakable, unlike many others, and there can be little confusion when it comes to identification. Although it is insect-pollinated, the main reason for its success in building large colonies is that it also reproduces vegetatively via its numerous root-tubers.

Distribution

Found throughout the Mediterranean region but more numerous in the west.

Habitat

Ophrys bombyliflora favours calcareous substrates which is one reason why it is so common on the coast of the Algarve where the ground is sandy and has a high content of crushed sea shells. It also occurs on waste ground in the barrocal and on abandoned farmland.

Bumblebee Orchid closeup

This close-up picture shows the deeply divided lip of the species, but in this specimen there is no discernible speculum.

Flowering times

This orchid flowers early in the season and can often be found from February through to the beginning of April.

The specimens above were photographed in Portugal on the Algarve in mid March.

Reference sources

The Plant List

Sue Parker (2014) Wild Orchids of the Algarve - how, where and when to find them; First Nature

Chris Thorogood and Simon Hiscock (2014) Field Guide to the Wildflowers of the Algarve; Kew Publishing

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

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

Les Orchidees de France, Belgique et Luxemborg; Parthenope Collection

Angela Rossini and Giovanni Quiadamo (2003) Orchidee Spontanee nel Parco Nazionale del Gargano; Centrografico Francescano

Claudio Del Fuoco (2003) Orchidee del Gargano


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...