John and Gerry's    Orchids of Britain and Europe

Back to Ophrys species


Ophrys apifera var aurita

O. apifera was first described by Hudson from England as far back as 1762. Its name refers to the flowers similarity to a bee and accordingly the species has long been commonly known as the Bee Orchid.

It is a widespread orchid distributed across temperate and Mediterranean Europe as far east as the Caucasus. In its favoured locations it can be abundant and its choice of habitat is wide, ranging from the driest chalk grassland/garrigue to wet, even swampy conditions. It prefers a full sun position but will tolerate even significant shade. Sepal colouration is normally pale pink but white is not uncommon and in the Balkans, white can be dominant, with pink a real rarity. O. apifera is largely self pollinating and this autogamy seems responsible for the frequent appearance of variant plants, some of which, although not of evolutionary significance, occur on a sufficiently regular basis to have acquired formal varietal status.

O. apifera v aurita is one of the commoner variants being found throughout the range of the type species and differing from it, in the length and often colouration of the petals. In aurita, the petals, which may be  green but frequently pink, are noticeably longer and usually rather more thickset than the normally insignificant petals of O. apifera v apifera.  O. apifera v aurita can easily be confused with the far rarer O. apifera v friburgensis which is also a variety with normal lip shape and pattern but enlarged petals. In friburgensis however the petals are actually sepaloid, being larger, more rounded and with the smoother, less hairy tissue texture of sepals. Instances of plants with intermediate characteristics are not uncommon and the third picture depicts just such an example. The final picture is also interesting as it exhibits the lack of defined basal field seen in O. apifera v belgarum.