Arnside and beyond

By gladders

Fly orchid

A second flower is now open on this fly orchid spike at this location about 400 metres from home, the first opened on Friday 8th May.  If this particular plant survives the attentions of rabbits, strimmers and incautiously kneeling botanists, I shall carry on photographing it until the full spike is in flower with perhaps 7 flowers in total and up to 30 cm tall.

The flowers have an interesting love life.  Their lover is an insect, not a fly as the name might suggest, but a species of solitary wasp Argogorytes mystaceus.  The orchid flower doesn't mimic the yellow and black wasp in its coloration, though there's a good size match and two of the petals are modified to look like antennae.  The cue for the insect, it turns out, is not visual, but pheromonal, the flower mimics the scent of the female wasp which draws the male to come and attempt to mate. He is rewarded with two sacs of pollen attached to his head which, not learning from his mistake, he then carries and deposits in the next flower. 

Alas, all this is book learning, I've never seen the wasp visiting a flower, now that would be a blip coup.

Every year when I visit this site, I am always careful where I place my feet, for this little orchid which may be only 20 cm or so tall, is quite difficult to spot.  I find a safe place to sit and gradually they materialise in the small patch of grassland, so I know where it is safe to walk and crouch for a photo. After taking the photo, I read the description of the orchid in Leif Bersweden's book "The Orchid Hunter".  He says "it was after only a few minutes of sitting and watching that I realised we were being steadily surrounded by Fly Orchids, true masters of stealth and camouflage. They appear slowly and softly, shifting in and out of focus. The longer you wait, the closer they get."  That says it quite neatly.

The magic of orchids.

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