Friday, 13 June 2014

Week 21/B: Brilliant, Bountiful, Box Moor Bee Orchids

My Tuesday had begun with blue sky but something of a dark mood. The discovery of the fantastic little Bee Orchids (Ophrys apifera) not only lifted my spirits but filled the morning with new colours, shapes and textures (how velvety does that “bee” flower look?!). As I mentioned in the previous post, there were more than 92 spikes in this one small area! From what I understand, it is considered rare locally and hasn’t perviously been reported at this site. I got utterly engrossed in photographing them. Lying belly-down in rabbit droppings was neither here nor there. It wasn’t until I needed the loo, my stomach was rumbling, my back was hurting, my elbows were sore (from propping myself up) and my knees were pretty much welded bent, that I reluctantly (and slowly) creaked my way to standing and headed home for a bacon butty. Here are a few memories from that morning… [as ever, higher resolution images in a set on Flickr here]

It seems that the Bee Orchid isn’t rare per se, but the habitat it can especially thrive in is becoming increasingly so i.e. open grasslands and, frequently, chalk (and limestone) grasslands. This is a reason why it isn’t seen locally. Box Moor Trust land is one of the few places left for it to colonise. It’s a perennial, dependant on mycorrhizal fungi for nutrients, and is self-pollinating in the UK (we don’t have the right bees here (honestly!)). Travel to the balmy Mediterranean and you’ll encounter the patently very sensible (but easily fooled) Solitary bee (Eucera). This pollinates plants in the southern regions by falling for the mimicry of the look-a-like “bee” flower. Males are drawn in and even “attempt to mate with [the flower], transferring pollen in the process” (silly Bee!). Self-pollination is just as interesting. Basically, as the flower develops, the pollinia [two yellow blobs of pollen grains] are released from the green, curved arch in which they are held (this is the anther, the male part, and the structure you can see overhanging the “bee”). They then hang loosely on yellow threads (caudicles) and are blown against the receptive surface of the stigma (the female part), et voilĂ ! Just below the stigma, at the base of the reproductive column, is the ovary (the part of the flower that contains embryonic seeds, called ovules). According to Wikipedia, this Orchid is unusual in that “in some years they appear in great numbers, then sometimes only reappear after an absence of many years.” How ever it reproduces, it is clearly a plant to be made the most of whilst it is around!

I was fortunate to be able to return to the Bee Orchids on Thursday morning for a short time, with a few rough ideas for compositions. I wanted to capture the context and the proportions. I also hoped to capture the texture of the “bee”, show the pollinia and also photograph a bud which was in the process of opening. I hope you enjoy the results as much as I did achieving them…

    Velvety "bee" & Pollinia pair
    Bud opening in progress
    Compared to Dr Pepper!


Martin Parr said...

Excellent set Lucy, love the ones against the sky - guess you used fill flash here? Didn't try that and wish I had now.

Boxmoor, naturally... said...

Thank you, Martin. The weather was just perfect for it. No fill flash, just compensating to the right. The blue sky was a very forgiving back drop - could use big depths of field and "over-expose" without altering the "blue canvas".

Martin Parr said...

Nice one! Well it worked very well!