Orchid Pollination

For day 3 of Pollinator Awareness Week I have decided to briefly talk about the pollination of orchids. Firstly I should point out that there is a lot that isn’t known about orchid pollination! One species that we do know about is the fly orchid (Ophyrys insectifera), this species apparently looks like a fly, I am not convinced though.


This orchid species is actually pollinated by male digger wasps. These male wasps emerge two weeks earlier than the females and are keen to mate. The orchids make themselves attractive to males visually and by excreting pheromones which mimic female digger wasps. The wasps then try mate with the orchid, get covered in pollen and then move onto the next flower. There is only a short period of time when this works because when the female digger wasps emerge, the males see sense and stop trying to mate with the orchids.

Similarly the Early spider orchid (Ophrys sphegodes) and late spider orchid (Ophrys fuciflora) are reliant on their insect pollinators and also lure them with fake signals. Bee orchids in Britain are not reliant on pollination and self seed, however elsewhere they are pollinated by bees. 19170221490_68e9ff2a2b_z (1)   We know extremely little about how other orchid species are pollinated in Britain; bees, flies, something else? Who knows. I wrote a BSBI guest blog post about some recent research on this matter for a rather rare orchid. Hopefully the Orchid Observers project will help answer some of these questions about orchid pollination. 18310789760_bd8588b0a7_z

Update: Richard Fox,  Head of Recording for Butterfly Conservation has now informed me that butterfly orchids like the one above, are probably moth pollinated! Awesome!


3 responses to “Orchid Pollination

  1. The evolutionary story of insects and plants is fascinating. Lovely photos as usual from you, and the one by Steph.

  2. Pingback: Pollinator Awareness Week – A Summary | Ryan Clark Ecology

  3. Very interesting. I never realised that so little was known about orchid pollination.

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