Those Sexy Little Orchids

The bee orchid,  Ophrys apifera , resembles its main pollinator. Photo: gardeningknowhow.com

The bee orchid, Ophrys apifera, resembles its main pollinator. Photo: gardeningknowhow.com

We know that plants' main pollinators are bugs. All kinds of bugs. Bugs such as bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, and others. But why? What are they doing on those plants? Well, they probably are collecting nectar or pollen. In other words, those bugs are hungry or thirsty or collecting stuff for the rest of their group or their family. If you've ever wondered whether plants get something out of that, they do. They get pollinated. Those bugs accidentally brush against the pollen on the flowers and carry it from plant to plant and in simple words, that's how seeds get started. So, we learn that plants have created something within themselves as a reward to attract the pollinators in order to start the reproduction process.

But how about those rare plants, certain orchids, that offer no reward to their pollinators. They've got to attract them somehow in order to survive, so they thought of a new way (for them). Sex. These orchids masquerade as a bee and look very sexy to a real bee. No kidding. And now a foraging bee comes along, takes a look at the orchid, thinks, wow, she's cute, and checks it out. In doing so, the bee brushes against the organ which carries the pollen and the pollen gets deposited on the bee's back or head. At that point, the bee, disappointed, realizes it has been fooled, leaves and continues the search. If there is another similar flower nearby, the bee sees it, once again thinks it recognizes another bee, and goes through the same investigative process. Only this time the pollen is brushed off the bee and lands on the new flower's receptive organ.

And that's how it's done. Pollination completed.

---Michael Penziner, FRNC Docent