What is Ophrys?

Todd M.
Todd M.
Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

Ophrys is a genus of orchids belonging to the Orchidaceae family that are commonly referred to as bee orchids. All of the 50 species that belong to this genus are terrestrial plants, meaning that they grow in soil. The name "bee orchid" is derived from the the plant's clusters of small orchid flowers that attract a large volume of bees. Some species of Ophrys orchids are relatively common in their native habitat, but most bee orchids are difficult to grow in a home garden.

Most plants that are pollinated by insects attract their pollinators with a source of free nutrition in the form of pollen. Bee orchids, however, have evolved an apparatus that ensures that its flower is thoroughly pollinated. The blossoms of Ophrys orchids attract bees with a uniquely designed flower that male bees mistake for the reproductive organs of a female bee. While male bees are out gathering pollen, they attempt to copulate with the flower and guarantee that it is properly pollinated.

The majority of the species in the Ophrys genus are native to the Mediterranean, but other species have been found in Germany and the United Kingdom. Members of Ophrys genus can be found in a wide variety of terrain, ranging from dry, grassy areas to healthy forest clearings. These orchids prefer soils that have a high pH and plenty of sodium. There are some species of Ophrys from colder regions like southern Scandinavia that can tolerate frosts.

Ophrys orchids can be cultivated by experienced gardeners with the proper research, but bee orchids have a reputation for being ill-tempered even under ideal conditions. Tubers that are propagated from established plants or purchased from specialty bulb dealers can be planted during the late summer or early fall while the plant is dormant. It is important to allow the tuber to remain as dry as possible during dormancy in order to avoid possible rotting. The plant should be grown in soil that is high in minerals and has excellent drainage.

Bee orchids require abundant direct light and will sprout a set of basal leaves at the beginning of the growing season in the right conditions. The plant should be watered throughout the spring and summer whenever the soil begins to dry. Most species do not flower until the late summer when nights begin to cool. After the flower has blossomed, bee orchids should be watered less frequently as the plant returns to dormancy.

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