Bee Orchids are discovered for the first time growing in Berwickshire

The Bee Orchid which has just been found for the first time in Berwickshire.
The Bee Orchid which has just been found for the first time in Berwickshire.
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So often it is bad news we hear about our local wildlife, the decrease in numbers or the loss of some population or an entire species.

However, just occasionally there is a good news story and the discovery of a natural population of Bee Orchid growing wild in Berwickshire is something special to report.

Bee Orchids, like many orchids, have tiny seeds which can blow long distances in the wind and if they land in exactly the right habitat and the conditions are perfect then the seeds can germinate and grow and start a new colony.

Bee Orchids have tended to be a southern species and recently they have been on the move north and east. At least two colonies have turned up in East Lothian in recent years and naturalists have been looking out for it in Berwickshire for some time and our searching has been rewarded this year with a population of at least 13 flowering plants at one site in the County. As far as I know this is the first time it has ever been recorded in Berwickshire.

Bee Orchids have strange and beautiful flowers which mimic the females of some species of bee. A male bee finds the flower and thinking it is a female bee tries to copulate with the flower. In the process pollen from the flower is attached to the male bee which then goes on its way searching for another female. If by chance it finds another Bee Orchid flower it deposits the pollen on this new flower and collects more pollen from the second flower and so it goes on, the flowers get pollinated and we have a frustrated male bee.

How this bit of evolution was perfected is difficult to imagine. Along southern Europe there are many species of orchid in the genus Ophris which have developed a similar relationship with insects and it must have taken some time to select the best design of orchid flower to attract the appropriate bee or insect. As luck would have it we must have the correct species of wild bee in this area as the East Lothian populations of orchid certainly get pollinated and set seeds.

The seeds of those orchids are tiny and hold very little in the way of food reserves, as with many species of orchid the germinating seed must immediately strike up a partnership with a suitable fungus already growing in the ground, the orchid can then derive nourishment from the fungus and grow and become established. No wonder some creatures are rare when there are so many obstacles in their path to success.