Ophrys L. is a genus in the Orchidaceae family closely related to Orchis, with which it shares the habit of having two tubers, one supporting the currrent growth and one preparing next seasons plant. Their most striking feature is that their flowers mimic female insects to trick males into pollinating them while trying to procreate their own species.
Ophrys are summer dormant and grow their leaf rosette in fall, unlike the species of Orchis. Center of diversity is the Mediterranean, but there are species present all over Europe and Asia minor.
Ophrys apifera Huds., the bee orchid, is a middle sized hardy species native to the Mediterranean, but also occurring in Ireland, the southern UK and Germany. It grows in calcareous dry grassland or open forest areas. Unusual in Ophrys, the pink flowers tend to practice self-pollination in the more northern parts of their range, which results in a high rate of producing seed, but also to a reduced longlivety of the plants since the high cost of seed production weakens the plants.
Both the color of the sepals as well as the pattern on the lip differ between populations: Photos 1 - 3 show a plant in cultivation by Martin Bohnet, which sadly failed to return after summer dormancy. Picture 4 shows the flower of a plant in the wild on the Swabian Alp, southern Germany with paler sepals and a variation of the lip pattern.
Ophrys araneola Rchb. is a south- and middle European limestone grassland species which actually expands it's range due to the shift to warmer climate. It flowers before most of its cousins, between February in the Mediterranean area and late April /early May in central Europe. The Small Spider Orchid, as it is called, can be distinguished from the Big Spider Orchid Ophrys spegodes through it's smaller, flat lip, earlier flower period and reduced contrast in flower colors, but tends to hybridize with other Ophrys in the area, making identification quite difficult.
Ophrys insectifera L. is the type species of Ophrys. It is widespread in Europe, focusing on limestone grassland. Everything about this plant is slender and upright, and the green sepals seem to melt into the background, putting the dark lip into focus. Target of their sexual mimicry are certain wasp species, though the chemical aspect of this seems to be far more elaborate than the visual. Photos show plants in Habitat on the Swabian Alp.
Ophrys sphegodes Miller is a widespread European limestone grassland species which can be found from Portugal to Iran and north up to the UK. It flowers slightly later than its cousin Ophrys araneola from which it also can be distinguished by a more reddish color scheme and bigger and more bulging lip, even though there is quite some variation in the individuals. Photos by Martin Bohnet of plants found in the Swabian Jura.