Ophrys fusca - Sombre Bee Orchid

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

Ophrys fusca

This orchid is widespread in the western Mediterranean, and with numerous subspecies reported, it is one of the most difficult to identify accurately.


Ophrys fusca generally grows to around 25cm but specimens up to 35cm are reported, particularly if they are competing with taller surrounding shrubs and plants. The lax inflorescences carry up to 10 drab flowers. The sepals and petals are green and sometimes tinged with brown. The lip of the flower is very variable in colour from buff to dark brown. The speculum is generally grey but sometimes with a hint of blue.

The vairable lip of Ophrys fusca


Ophrys fusca is well known in the Iberian and is particularly common in the Algarve region in Portugal where it can occur in vast numbers. It is also recorded from Italy, North Africa and is thought to extend up into the southernmost part of France.


Ophrys fusca is difficult to spot and the plants are often tucked away in dense thyme thickets or bushes. Anywhere near the coast is a good place to look. It flowers in rocky and stony places in the littoral. It can be confused with other similar looking species including Ophrys omegaifera subsp. dyris and Ophrys fusca subsp. iricolor.

Ophrys fusca in southern Portugal

Flowering times

The flowers come early - often in late February and continue until April.

The specimens shown above were photographed in Portugal on the Algarve in mid March, and the plant illustrated below was seen during May in an orchid-rich wildflower meadow near Le Clapier, in the Aveyron region of southern France.

Ophrys fusca in southern France


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 fusca means 'dusky' or 'brown'.

Reference sources

The Plant List

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

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

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

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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