This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
As a more or less southern type we find no record of its occurrence earlier than the present day. It ranges in the N. Temperate Zone in Europe from Belgium southwards, and in N. Africa. In Great Britain it is found in the Peninsula province, except in E. Cornwall; in the Channel province, Thames, and Anglia province, not in Hunts; in the Severn province; in S. Wales only in Glamorgan and Pembroke; in N. Wales, not in Montgomery, Merioneth; in the Trent province and Mersey provinces, not in Mid Lancs; in the Humber province in Durham and Cumberland; and in Lanark. From Durham and Lanark it is general elsewhere to the south coast. In the N. of England it grows at 1000 ft. In South and Mid Ireland it is found on limestone and sandhills.
The Bee Orchis is one of those characteristic plants which depend on a certain type of geological formation for their distribution, more than others. Thus it is found almost exclusively on hills composed of chalk or limestone, or in woods and copses on the same formations, it is rarely found on sandy soil or pure peat or loam. The stem is leafy, with sheathing leaves, egg-shaped, lanceolate, oblong, silvery below, and with linear veins. The bracts or leaflike organs are large, green, sheathing, equalling the flowers.
As the second Latin (and English) name implies the flower has the form of a bee. Three to six flowers are arranged in a spike, and they are purple, with a 5-lobed swollen lip, the two lower lobes marked, smaller, hairy at the base, the intermediate ones turned back, oval, and hollow.
The Bee Orchid is about 1 ft. high. Flowers may be found in June and July. The plant is perennial, and propagated by division of the root.
The rostellum contains two pouches, and has a sticky disk, being placed much as in Orchis. The pollen-stalks are long, thin, and flexible, and the pollen-masses are at a variable distance apart. The pollen-grains vary in shape. The anther cells open directly or soon after the flower opens. The pollinia are pear-shaped, and after they are set free, if not removed by insects, hang by the caudicles above the stigma, and are very readily brought into contact with the stigmatic surface.
Photo. Flatters & Garnett - Bee Orchis (ophrys Apifera, Huds.)
It is probable that the apparent mimicry, so-called, of the flower, by which it may induce bees to visit it, is for securing occasional crosspollination. But in their absence self-pollination occurs regularly. The pollen-mass, moreover, does not usually fail to reach the stigma in the same flower.
The seeds are extremely small and light, and are dispersed by the wind.
The Bee Orchid is distinctly a lime-loving plant, and addicted to limestone, oolite, or the chalk, and a lime soil.
Ophrys, Pliny, is the Greek for eyebrow, alluding to the yellow markings on the lip, which are honey-guides leading to the nectary. The second Latin name refers to the resemblance of the petals in form to the outline of a bee.
This Orchid is called Bee-flower, Bee Orchis, Dumble Dor, Honey-flower, Humble-bee. Many of these refer to the mimetic character of the flower.
The root tubers have been employed to furnish jalep.
Essential Specific Characters: 293. Ophrys apifera, Huds. - Stem slender, leaves oblong, flowers purple, in shape resembling a bee, sepals pink within, intermediate lobes of lip reflexed.