The Early Spider Orchid, Late Spider Orchid and Bee Orchid have certain similarities. However, the Early Spider Orchid can be easily differentiated from all other orchid species by way of the markings at the centre of its lip, which are bluish to dark violet and often in the form of the letter "H".
Along with other Bee Orchid species, the Early Spider Orchid is part of a collection of 15 to 22 different hybrid sorts which are often difficult to differentiate. The Early Spider Orchid grows from 10 to 45cm high and forms 3 to 6 basal leaves which are elongated to lancet-shaped. Beneath the loosely-arranged flowers (3 to 12), the bract is lanceolate, longer to the tip than the ovary. The outer sepals are green whereas the inner ones are greenish to yellow and occasionally even brownish red. The dark-brown lip is elongated (8-16mm long), oval, undivided or slightly 3-lobed and smooth inside. On this patch in the middle there is a marking which consists of two parallel lines, usually light blue to violet, which are connected by one or two lines to form an "H". There may be an elaiosome at the tip of the lip. Flowering takes place from February (in the south) to June.
Ranges from Western, Central and Southern Europe northwards to southern England. Includes Spain (incl. Majorca), France (incl. Corsica), central and southern Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Greece. The Early Spider Orchid prefers dry turf and woodland glades in chalky soils.
Endangerment and Conservation Status
Endangered throughout Austria and in some regions, critically endangered. In both Vienna and Austria, all Ophrys species enjoy full protection.
Few other plant families have been able to perfect the process of pollination through insects in the way the Ophrys genus has. The middle petal is markedly enlarged and as a "lower lip" it is the perfect landing strip for insects. In fact, this lip is so well developed that some orchid species (namely the Ophrys) actually imitate female insect species in their form, colour and even scent. Males ready to mate are attracted by this mimicry and carry out pollination. All the pollen of an individual flower of this genus will be gathered and glued up in one "package" which will be handed over – or in fact, stuck to – a selected insect, which then transports it to the stigma of another flower. Only after pollination are the seed reserves of the flower developed and then fertilized. And only in the form of targeted transfer of large amounts of pollen in the form of a package is it possible for thousands of tiny seeds to develop in just one flower. Seeds are dispersed by wind. The seeds have no endosperm and hardly any nutrients in reserve. Thus the seeds are dependent on symbiosis with suitable fungi. A fusiform, e.g. spindle-shaped, pale growth, only a few millimetres large, matures slowly, sometimes taking years to form the actual plant with roots, shoots and leaves. The otherwise slim chances of successful development of these orchids are counterbalanced by the sheer number of tiny seeds produced.
Sexually deceptive flowers such as the Early Spider Orchid offer neither nectar nor pollen. Ophrys sphegodes flowers are pollinated by male bees belonging to one of the Andrena genus of bee species which hatch two weeks before the females. The plant carries out mimicry of the female bee in order to ensure successful pollination. First, it emits a scent similar to the female bee's pheromones. It also offers visual stimuli: the H-shape on the flower's patch resembles the shine of wings and the hair on the lip of the flower corresponds to the dorsal hairs on a female bee. The better the imitative performance of the plant, the more likely it is that the male bee will fall for the ruse and carry out pollination.