The Bee Orchid is a fascinating species. First of all, it is really cute. Really diverse, phenotypically speaking (the pattern of labellum varies dramatically from one individual to the other, so does its colour, so do the other sepals and petals).
And of course, as noted by Darwin himself , it has the ability to self-pollinate and ensure seed production.
It does self an interesting way though: only after a few days open, so that outcrossing may happen before this deadline. Then, pollinia slowy curve until they reach for the gynostemium. I’ve always been fascinated by this ‘take-it-easy’ step by step race to a decent fertilization level. For then, selfing occurs (and unsurprisingly, this way to indulge into self-pregnancy is called delayed selfing).
With respectful intermixing of occasional outcross (seems like xenogamy is the favourite and fashionable word coming back for it, as my current paper reading made me notice a trend), and regular selfing, both lineage fixation and lineage sorting occurs, probably explaining why phenotypic diversity is so high in this cuty (or say, in other related species) compared to other orchids.
But we’re mostly wondering about another of Ophrysian trick today. Ophrys species concentrate flavonoids in their cuticle, and more precisely these substances are localized within protoplasts and the organells are completely covering the nucleus .
Apparently, this is one way plants have to be protected against the fairly bad effects of UltraViolet light. Imagine a second what would happen if Ophrys had sunburns… Would flowers still be attractive to their pollinators in a redish dress? This is even truer for O. apifera, with a particularly sensitive pink colour. And guess what? O. apifera happens to be the Ophrys member with the highest flavonoid concentration… Summer is next, protect yourself from the sun.
- Darwin, C. (1862). On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects. London: John Murray.
- A. Karioti, C. K. Kitsaki, S. Zygouraki, M. Ziobora, S. Djeddi, H. Skaltsa, G. Liakopoulos (2008). Occurrence of flavonoids in Ophrys (Orchidaceae) flower parts. Flora – Morphology, Distribution, Functional Ecology of Plants, 203 (7): 602-609.