Sombre Orchid – Ophrys fusca

Sombre Orchid – Ophrys fusca © Tony Hall
Sombre Orchid – Ophrys fusca © Tony Hall

Sombre Orchid - Ophrys fusca

by Tony Hall

This orchid's common name, the sombre or dull orchid, doesn't really describe this particular species of bee orchid very well. It is extremely variable in colour, and the species was divided into many sub-species. Some of these have now been separated into distinct species, for example, the Atlantic orchid, Ophrys atlantica. Many individuals are very colourful indeed.

A characteristic of all bee orchids is that the main leaves form a basal rosette, with a few oblong or lanceolate stem leaves.

The flowers are borne on a single spike, up to 40cm tall, and open from the bottom up. They have up to 10 individual flowers, each with 3 green sepals, the top sepal facing forwards forming a hood above the main body of the flower, which is 3-lobed, often with a narrow yellow margin. They have a finely haired surface, and two lighter patches (silvery or steel-blue) at their base, extending to around the midway point.

Ophrys fusca is probably the earliest orchid to flower in Andalucía, growing from just above sea level to around 1400 metres in the mountains. And depending on altitude, some years you will find it in flower as early as the end of December, but more often from February to April.

Tony Hall, Manager of the Arboretum and Gardens at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, specialising in the plants of Andalucía.