Bee Orchids at Deene Park

  • 18 Jun 2020
  • Article

Every now and again the garden offers up a surprise, one such occurrence has given us a splendid new and totally unexpected addition to the gardens here at Deene Park...

At the beginning of the year, while preparing for our Snowdrop Sundays, our gardeners noticed several unusual looking plants growing in the lawn below the Parterre. With a rosette of leaves that looked like ribbed plantain, but just that little bit different, their curiosity was pricked, this plant just seemed somehow different and worthy of investigation. The internet can, at times, be a wonderful thing, and after a little online detective work, the conclusion was reached that we may have bee orchids, Ophrys apifera, growing in our lawn.

The lawn was searched thoroughly, and half a dozen potential bee orchids were spotted and marked with canes. When the lawn was mowed, these marked plants were avoided and saved from the chop. All we had to do was wait for them to flower to be sure of what we had. As May rolled on, flower spikes began to rise from our plants, reaching upwards some eight inches or so, and producing the most marvellous flowers…bee orchid flowers!

The bee orchid is native to central and southern Europe, as well as North Africa and the Middle East. In Britain it is confined to the south and east of England, growing in free draining turf or grassland, on limestone.

The bee orchid gets its name from the fact that its main pollinator is a species of solitary bee. To attract bees to pollinate the orchid, it has flowers that mimic the female bee in both appearance and scent. Drawn in the hope of finding love, the male bee attempts to mate what he believes to be a female. As he lands on the velvet textured lip of the flower, pollen is transferred, but the poor bee is left unfulfilled. However, hope springs eternal, the male takes flight, and, spotting what he believes to be another female, repeats his amorous advances, pollinating the second bee orchid in the process. The evolution of the bee orchid is believed to have been driven by this rather one sided relationship. In Britain, however, the appropriate species of bee is not present, and the bee orchid is self-pollinating as a result.

How bee orchids came to be in our lawn is a mystery, though the seed was most likely carried here on the feathers or fur of the local wildlife. Our hope is that these orchids will multiply, so to aid this, they will be left to flower in peace and hopefully set seed.

With a little luck, the lawn below our Parterre will become a spectacular orchid meadow in time.

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