Ophrys umbilicata subsp. flavomarginata

BPotD work-learn student Cora den Hartigh wrote today’s entry:

Thank you to Andreas Lambrianides (andreas lambrianides@Flickr) for this “happy” flower from the Akamas Peninsula, Pafos, Cyprus! These orchids are rare to find outside of the grasslands of Cyprus, but they can be found in similar habitats in Israel and Jordan.

Ophrys umbilicata subsp. flavomarginata is a delightful species of orchid that is easily anthropomorphized. Just look at those cute fuzzy (hirsute) arms (actually, lateral lobes)! Otherwise known as the yellow-lobed bee orchid, this species is closely related to several other Ophrys spp. that mimic insects, two of which have been previously featured on BPotD: see the gorgeous Ophyrs bombyliflora for a discussion of plant trickery, or the sly Ophrys tenthredinifera.

Co-evolution has exquisitely tailored orchids to appeal to specific pollinators, predicating a radiance of flourishing diversity and interdependence. There are orchids that smell like chocolate or mushrooms or powerful head-spinning perfumes. There are orchids that look like flying ducks (Caleana major) and monkey faces (Dracula simia, among others). There are rare species of blue orchids or sneaky parasitic orchids – they are in fact so diverse that it is possible to find orchids in nearly every biome! One of my favourite genera is Catasetum, whose species fire pollen so forcibly when the seta of plants are brushed that the pollinators are knocked back into the air!

Another orchid story: in 1798, Darwin received a curious specimen of Angraecum sesquipedale (Christmas star orchid) in the mail from a naturalist friend exploring in Madagascar which was possessed of a remarkably long nectar spur. What could possibly pollinate such a flower? Darwin postulated some insect might be uniquely adapted to this orchid by way of a similarly long proboscis. It was not until 1903, a century later, that a moth (Xanthopan morgani praedicta) was discovered fitting Darwin’s description. The orchid and moth are celebrated examples of Darwin’s evolutionary theories and the fine tailoring of biological relationships. You can check out a video of the moth in action. Notice that Angraecum sesquipedale is white; pollinated by a nocturnal insect, the plant presumably had no need to evolve colourful pigments for attracting pollinators, unlike today’s subject.

Speaking of orchid diversity, I spent last summer working at a botanical garden that had no less than 3000 species of orchid at any given time. The collection had been gifted from a private donor in Vancouver and was housed in three misty greenhouses that were positively intoxicating! If you visit Edmonton, consider checking out the Muttart Conservatory. Alternatively, you can always take a moment to peruse the web site of the Orchid Species Preservation Foundation!

Ophrys umbilicata subsp. flavomarginata

5 responses to “Ophrys umbilicata subsp. flavomarginata”

  1. kate-v

    very funny – this orchid looks like a giraffe’s snout!

  2. Connie Beliveau

    Hi! Charles Darwin was born in 1809. So I’m wondering about the date of 1798 in the anecdote about the Christmas star orchid. Was the flower sent to one of his older relatives, or is the date inaccurate? But it’s a very interesting story and highlights his amazing intellect.

  3. Bonnie

    My amateur reading of the Latin name that showed up in the email led me to expect a tasty fake buttercup. As the photo rolled slowly up my screen I thought I was looking at a fairy teddy bear. And now I find out it’s a fuzzy orchid. There is so much amusement — and education — in these daily entries!

  4. Viola

    From beginning to end – totally fascinating bits of information, both written and photographed. Thanks so much, Cora, for sharing your research and experience!

  5. Cora

    Connie, you’re very right! This was my mistake, I looked up the plant discovery date instead of the date Darwin interacted with it. Thank you for catching this!! It seems the correct date would be closer to 1862. Here is a more accurate outline of the story. We’ll update in the new year! Happy holidays!

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