Ophrys bombyliflora - Bumblebee Orchid

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

Bumblebee Orchid plant

Above: Bumblebee Orchid plants 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.

Bumblebee Orchid, Ophrys bombyliflora, a young plant showing the leaf rosette


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.

Ophrys bombyliflora, Bumblebee Orchid, closeup of flowers


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


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

Close-up picture showing the deeply divided lip of the flower of this species.

Flowering times

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

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


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 bombyliflora indicates that the flower shape resembles a bumblebee.

Reference sources

The Plant List

Sue Parker (2023) Wild Orchids of the Algarve - where, when and how to find them; First Nature e-book (Amazon Kindle format)

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

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