Pyramidal and Bee Orchids

Pyramidal Orchid, Anacamptis pyramidalis in grass verge.© Karen Andrews

I remember my deep disappointment in retracing my childhood steps when I first returned to live in Somerset. I knew that I used to find lots of Orchids within walking distance of home. While I found some specimens, there did not seem to be the variation or numbers that I remembered identifying with my trusty old Collins Wild Flower Guide.

Wild Flowers in Grass Verges

Leaving grass verges uncut during the Coronavirus lockdown last year seems to have had a positive effect on wild flowers. Plantlife’s campaign seems to be making a real difference locally. I recently investigated a local, grass verge at the edge of a busy road. The edges had been trimmed for driver visibility, but the rest of the grass had been left untrimmed. I spotted a Pyramidal Orchid, and then another, and another… until I came across Bee Orchids hiding in the grass too.

I know these Orchids are not the greatest rarities. I think it is exciting to rediscover numerous Orchids and wild flowers in any species. I had feared that intensive local agriculture meant that my childhood botanising haunts would never see Orchids in such numbers again. Can you share my excitement at their seeming comeback?

Unfurling Bee Orchid, Ophrys apifera hidden in grass verge. © Karen Andrews

Over the past week, I have seen even more of these distinctive pink Orchids in uncut grass verges and roundabouts across Somerset. Orchids seem to be having a good year judging by the observations of others across the country too. The Coronavirus lockdown seems to have had a positive effect on Nature. Pyramidal and Bee Orchids are among the commoner species. I know that I used to see both rare and common wild flowers in much greater abundance as a child. Isn’t it great to see even so-called common wild flowers return in greater abundance?

Pyramidal Orchids

As the name suggests, Pyramidal Orchids (Anacamptis pyramidalis) have a pyramid- or cone-shaped flower. Mature flowers can have a more cylindical or globe-like appearance. The pyramid shape is even more marked at the bud stage.

This Orchid comes in a range of pinks from magenta to pale pink. You can also sometimes find white flowers too. The flower relishes Somerset’s limestone grassland, hills, quarries and roadside verges. It is also common at coastal sites and in dunes. It seems to be able to pop its distinctive flowerhead up even among tall vegetation. I noted many more buds that are yet to flower this year. There are suggestions that this Orchid may be taking advantage of climate change to expand its range across the country.

Bee Orchids

Bee Orchids (Ophrys apifera) are another common Orchid in open grassland in many parts of Britain. They are not as easily spotted as Pyramidal Orchids. Their bee-like appearance is well-known for conning male bees into thinking that they have found a female bee. Surprisingly and despite this con trick, the flower is usually self-pollinated.

Bee Orchids find it harder to compete with other vegetation than Pyramidal Orchids. Their flowers are going over now. My specimens were found hiding in the more sparse, grassy edges of roads. These sites are commonly mown before they get a chance to set seed. It is good to see the implementation of an informed wildlife policy giving them chance to thrive and return next year too.

Pyramidal and Bee Orchid Gallery

All above photos: © Karen Andrews

References and Further Reading

  • Cole, Sean & Waller, Mike (2020): Britain’s Orchids. A field guide to the orchids of Great Britain and Ireland. Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland. Princeton. Wild Guides.
  • Harrap, Simon (2016): A Pocket Guide to the Orchids of Britain and Ireland. Bloomsbury.
  • Plantlife (2021): Save Wildflowers on road verges. Campaign.
  • Plantlife (2021): Managing Grassland Road Verges. (Link to downloadable publication).
  • Streeter, David et al. (2016): Collins Wild Flower Guide. The Most Complete Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland. 2nd Edition.


Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.

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