Ophrys apifera - Bee Orchid


Minimum Quantity: 1g

Maximum Quantity: 1g

Seeds per gram: 999999


  • £ / 1g : £3.00
  • £ / 10g : £15.00
  • £ / 100g :  —
  • £ / 1,000g :  —
  • £ / 10,000g :  —

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With the exception of the very rare Late spider orchid the Bee orchid is unlikely to be mistaken for any other British plant. As the name suggests the flower looks very like a bumblebee. The bumblebee bit is a highly modified petal known as a lip or labellum, it is three-lobed, maroon brown with a velvety texture. The central lobe is rounded, convex and patterned with cream or yellow markings with the side lobes forming rounded, furry humps. Above this small, slender, greenish or pinkish brown petals form the bee’s ‘antennae’ and the whole lot is set off and backed by three large, broad, pink sepals.

The flower spike appears from the centre of a rosette of basal leaves and grows up to 50cm, with between two and seven flowers. Flowering occurs from late May to late June or early July.

Habitat Information

Bee orchid is a native perennial found on chalk, limestone, clays and calcareous sands and, although usually associated with well drained sites, it can occasionally be found in damp areas. It grows in a wide range of habitats include grassland, scrub, sand dunes, road verges and disturbed sites such as quarries, gravel pits and waste ground.

Our plants which derive from limestone grassland populations have appeared in number as a ‘weed’ amongst our Rough hawkbit crop.

Bee orchids have evolved a curious means of pollination whereby the flower has developed not only to look like a female bee but also to smell like one. The mimicry is so good to male bees that they attempt to mate with the flowers at which point pollen is attached to the body of the bee. The bee in question, the long-horned mining bee (Eucera longicornis), is now rare in Britain and our plants have developed means of self pollination. The lack of out breeding has lead to a range of variations and forms including one with a long, tapering lip (Var. trollii) known as the wasp orchid. There are however occasional records of bee orchids hybridising with fly and early spider orchids so it is likely that some bee pollination still occurs.

Growing Information

Probably best sow in situ onto bare or disturbed ground in early summer to mid autumn. The very fine seed will be washed down in to crack and fissures in the soil where it will form a parasitic association with a fungus. The fungus provides nutrient allowing the developing plant to grow to the point where it derive its own food through its leaves and then on to flowering. The whole process can take from five to eight years.

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