The genus Ophrys is a large group of orchids from the alliance Orchis in the subtribe Orchidinae. There are many natural hybrids. The type species is Ophrys insectifera L.1753
Ophrys was first mentioned in the book "Natural History" by Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD).
They are terrestrial or ground orchids from central to South Europe, North Africa, Asia Minor, up to the Caucasus Mountains, but mostly around the Mediterranean. They are considered the most important group of European terrestrial orchids.
During summer all Ophrys orchids are dormant as an underground bulbous tuber, which serves as a food reserve. In late summer/autumn they develop a rosette of leaves. Also a new tuber starts to grow and matures until the following spring; the old tuber slowly dies. The next spring the flowering stem starts to grow. During flowering the leaves already start to wither.
Most Ophrys orchids are dependent on symbiotic fungi. Because of this, some species only develop small alternate leaves. Transplanting specimens, especially wild specimens, is difficult, sometimes impossible, due to this symbiosis. The shiny, basal leaves have a green or bluish color.
The flowers surpass all other European orchids. Two to twelve flowers grow on an erect stem with basal leaves. They are absolutely unique not only because of their unequaled beauty, color range and exceptional forms, but also because of the ingenuity by which they attract insects. Their lip mimics several insects, such as that of a bee, a wasp, or a beetle, attracting and duping the right pollinator. This visual cue serves as a close-range attractant. This pollination mimicry is enhanced by producing the scent of the receptive female insect. This is the long-range attractant. These insect pheromones cause them to approach and investigate the flowers more closely. This all happens in a period that only males are active and females haven't appeared yet.
The Bumblebee Orchid (Ophrys bombyliflora) is a typical example. It has flowers that look and smell so much like female Bumble Bees that males flying nearby are irresistibly drawn in by this chemical signal, stimulating them sexually. The insect gets so excited that he starts to copulate with the flower. This is termed pseudocopulation. The firmness, the smoothness and the velvety hairs of the lip are a further incentive for the insect to enter the flower. The pollinia inadvertently stick to the head or the abdomen of the male bumblebee. On visiting another orchid of the same species, the bumblebee pollinates its sticky stigma with the pollinia. The filaments of the pollinia have, during transport, taken such a position that the waxy pollen are able to stick to the stigma. Such is the refinement of the reproduction. If the filaments hadn’t taken the new position, the pollinia could not have pollinated the new orchid.
The root is ediable and grinded into a powder called salep. Salep is very nutritious and is made into a drink or added to other cereals and used in bread. Tubers for creating salep should be harvested as the plant dies down after flowering and setting seed.
Every Ophrys orchid has its own pollinator insect and is completely dependent on this species for its survival. Furthermore, duped males are not likely to return. They even ignore other plants of the same species. Therefore, only about 10% of an Ophrys population gets pollinated. This is enough to preserve the population, since each Ophrys orchid produces about 12,000 minute seeds.
Ophrys are usually grown from seeds because they rely on a symbiotic fungus to grow. Plants prefer well-drained low-fertility soils and areas with partial shade. Plants are very sensitive to the addition of fertilizers or fungicides and transplanting because it kills symbiotic fungus. The plant is usually propagated through seed culture. This species is cool to intermediate growing. Divide plant when flower fades.
They are referred to as the "Bee orchids" due to the flowers of some species resemblance to the furry bodies of Bumble Bees and other insects. Their scientific name is derived from the Greek word "ophrys", meaning "eyebrow", referring to the furry edges of the lips of several species.
- Arachnites F.W.Schmidt 1793
- Myodium Salisbury 1812
The genus has been subdivided in several sections and subsections :
- Ophrys sect. Apiferae Quentin
- Ophrys sect. Argolicae Verm. ex Quentin
- Ophrys subsect. Atticae Quentin
- Ophrys sect. Bertoloniorum Quentin
- Ophrys sect. Mammosae Quentin
- Ophrys sect. Reinholdiae Quentin
- Ophrys sect. Tenthrediniferae Quentin
- Ophrys sect. Umbilicatae Quentin
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