Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Bee orchids ‘are a treat for gardeners’

When selecting what plants to focus on in a greenhouse, gardening enthusiasts are more than spoilt for choice.

The orchid is one solid option – and has been a perennial hit for many years. Indeed, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) in the UK recently took advantage of glasshouses to create a hot green space to nurture specific types of the plant that do not grow as successfully in outdoor conditions.

As the flower comes in a wide range of exotic colors, it can really brighten up a greenhouse and turn it into a celebration of liveliness.

The bee orchid is a strong example of a particularly appealing variety. In an article for the UK national paper the Guardian, founder of the wild plant charity Plantlife Andy Byfield said that those who have not come across the species yet are really in for a treat.

"Each flower is perfection in miniature," the expert commented, adding that the color is provided by three prominent and triangular sepals. These are characterised by a rich, blancmange pink hue.

"But it is the lowest of three petals where the action takes place, for this is enlarged into a lip and to my mind has all the appearances of a tiny velveteen boxing glove,"Mr Byfield continued, adding: "To others this lip looks more like a bee foraging at the heart of a pink flower – bees obviously think the same, for the lip has evolved with the one purpose of attracting horny male bees, who pollinate the flowers in their unsatisfied attempts to mate with this furry vegetable protuberance."

This process is known as pseudocopulation – a term used to refer to behavior similar to reproduction, but without involving sexual union. This is a typical process among orchids, as they secrete chemicals from glands known as osmophores, which are indistinguishable from the natural pheromones of insects.

Indeed, bees have promoted the evolution of the bee orchid in the past. Over the course of many years of cumulative evolution throughout generations of orchids, male bees have built up their shape through their efforts to copulate with the flowers – hence the ability to carry pollen.

Mr Byfield said that the bee orchid – or Ophrys apifera – grows particularly well in drier parts – and this is particularly the case if the use of pesticides herbicides, moss killers and fertiliser is avoided wherever possible – and is given sufficient room.