Ophrys fusca subsp. iricolor- Rainbow Ophrys

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

Rainbow Ophrys

Picture by kind permission of Anne Horsfall


The name 'iricolor' refers to the distinctive, iridescent mirror (speculum) on the upper surface of the lip of this orchid. The other more compelling feature which helps to identify this species is the red under surface of the lip. The plant grows to a maximum of 35cm in height and each inflorescence carries 3 - 5 large flowers. The flowers protrude almost horizontally from the stem, and their sepals and petals are yellowish-green. The lip is a dark blackish-purple with a velvety appearance. The mirror often forms a W-shape and is shiny and dark blue.

A large flower head of Ophrys fusca subsp. iricolor


Ophrys iricolor is localised and rare throughout its range which is mainly in the eastern part of the Mediterranean and North Africa. There are reports from the western Mediterranean - in the Algarve region of Portugal for instance - but it is extremely rare there.

Rainbow Ophrys flowers


This orchid grows in open sunny positions on alkaline substrates. Impoverished stony grassland and abandoned farm terraces are good places to look.

Flowering times

The Rainbow Ophrys flowers from the middle of March until mid-April.

Underside of Ophrys iricolor flower

The underside of the lip of Ophrys iricolor with red colouring

The specimen on this page was photographed in Crete, where several other members of the Ophrys fusca group also occur in good numbers.


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', while the subspecies name iricolor refers to the iridescent colouring of the speculum.

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

Fielding, Turland and Mathew (2005) Flowers of Crete; Kew

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