This section is from the book "Wayside And Woodland Blossoms", by Edward Step. Also available from Amazon: Wayside And Woodland Blossoms: A Guide To British Wild-Flowers.
In the genus Ophrys we have three species whose flowers bear quite startling likeness to a bee, spider and fly respectively. What is the purpose of this counterfeit presentment it is difficult to conjecture. It has been suggested that it might be to warn off or deceive insects, as the flowers are self-fertilized, but Charles Darwin did not think this was the probable reason. There is no spur in this group, there is no rostellum, and the ovary is not twisted. The stalks (caudicles) of the pollinia are so long and thin that the weight of the pollen masses causes them to bend over and touch against the stigma, fertilizing it.
I. Bee Orchis (O. apifera). The labellum is very convex and broad, three-lobed, of a rich velvety-brown colour, with a tail. The sepals are pinkish. The spike has only about about half a dozen flowers upon it, with a large leafy bract under each. Hillsides, fields and copses on chalk and limestone, chiefly in the South of England and Ireland. June and July. (Plate 77.)
II. Spider Orchis (O. aranifera). Similar to the last, but the sepals greenish, labellum differently marked, and without a tail. Similar situations to apifera, but much more rare. April and May.
III. Fly Orchis (O. muscifera. Sepals greenish, labellum narrow, flat, brown, with a yellow-edged, squarish blue patch. Strikingly like a fly. May to July.
The name of the genus is from the Greek, ophrus, an eyebrow, said to refer to the markings on the labellum.
Several other British species in different genera from those named bear similarly strange likenesses, such as the extremely rare Lizard Orchis (Orchis hircina), but some of the foreign forms are more remarkable still.
In addition to the species figured and those briefly described, we would call attention to a few others that may come under the rambler's notice. In boggy ground and sphagnum beds he may be so fortunate as to find the rare Bog Orchis (Malaxis paludosa), a small plant with tiny yellow-green flowers (July to September), and the scanty leaves producing bulbils from their edges which grow into new plants. In similar situations in the eastern counties he may even find the larger but much rarer Fen Orchis (Liparis loeselii).
A singular species, to be found chiefly in beechwoods throughout the country, is the Birds'-nest Orchis (Neottia nidus-avis), so called from the peculiar character of its roots, which are stout and juicy, and woven into a resemblance to a nest. The whole plant is of a pretty uniform brown tint - both stem and flowers. There are no leaves, for the plant lives upon decaying vegetable matter, and has no necessity to bother about chlorophyll. It is botanically known as a saprophyte. Flowers June and July.
The very distinct Twayblade (Listera ovata) is sure to be encountered in woods and pastures. Its two leaves are very broad, and appear to be opposite, but are not really so. The flowers are small and greenish; they appear in May. There is a singular fact in connection with the fertilization of this plant that should be noted. The pollen-masses are dry and friable, and would not be likely to adhere to insects. But if the rostellum be touched ever so lightly, it instantly exudes a gummy fluid, which enables the pollen to stick tightly to the insect causing the irritation. Examine the flower with your lens, irritate the rostellum by prodding it with the point of a hair from your own head, and note what you observe.
At the end of Summer in dry pastures there may be found a slender plant with a twisted spike of fragrant white flowers. These flowers are very small, enclosed each in a hood-like bract. It is the Autumnal Lady's-tresses (Spiranthes autumnalis). The rosette of leaves from the root does not appear until after the flowers.
Ophrys apifera. - Orghideaee. -