Phylum: Magnoliophyta - Class: Liliopsida - Order: Orchidales - Family: Orchidaceae
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Plant List
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...