Ophrys lutea - Yellow Ophrys / Yellow Bee Orchid

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

Ophrys lutea - Yellow Ophrys

This orchid is one of the most common and widespread in the Mediterranean.


Ophrys lutea grows to around 40cm and each lax inflorescence can carry up to 10 large flowers. The sepals and petals are greenish-yellow and the lip of the flower has a broad bright yellow border surrounding a reddish brown centre which has a grey or blue speculum forming a W-shape. In favoured habitats this plant forms large colonies.

Whole plants of the Yellow Bee Orchd


This orchid is reported from many southern European countries but there is much confusion with smaller-flowered subspecies. Ophrys lutea is easily recognised in the Iberian Peninsula where it is most common, particularly in the south. In the Algarve region of Portugal it is very common and occurs in large numbers. As in other areas a smaller-flowered subspecies is recorded - Ophrys lutea subsp. galilaea; it is extremely rare in the Algarve but more widespread in eastern Europe where it is known by other names - Ophrys sicula and Ophrys phryganae.

Ophrys lutea in southern France

Above: Ophrys lutea is just an occasional find on the limestone plateaux of the Aveyron region, southern France. There, the plants that we saw were typically a mere 5 to 10cm tall.


Ophrys lutea grows in coastal areas in alkline substrates. Open sunny positions on abandoned farm terraces, on roadside verges and in poor grassland are good places to look.

Flowering times

This orchid flowers from the end of February to the end of April in southern Portugal but can be seen through to late May in southern France..

Closeup of Ophrys lutea

The specimens shown above were photographed in Portugal on the Algarve during 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 lutea means 'yellow'.

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

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

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