The Bee orchid is less common on Bepton Down than the Common Spotted or Pyramidal orchids. It is, however, well represented in the area near to and below the mature Beech tree in the Access Land area. This small site is ideal for orchids as it is free of scrub and the purely chalk land grasses and other beneficial plants have been kept short year round by the presence of rabbits. A few more specimens of this orchid can be found level with the cattle trough near the deciduous tree line. More are to be found in the field above the cattle trough parallel to the track but this is non Access Land.
It gets its name from its pollinator, the solitary bee Eucera, which only occurs in Mediterranean countries. Thus this orchid has become practically exclusively self-pollinating in the other European countries in which it occurs. In the British Isles it prefers a southeastern site and is locally common in England and Wales. It is thought to be absent from Scotland. It also favours short dry calcareous grasslands and open areas in deciduous woodlands and will thrive in both bright or dim sunlight. It is also found in scrub, roadside verges and even dunes.
This is a very distinctive orchid with flowering stems of up to 45 cm. It produces five to six basal leaves which are greyish green with two further leaves growing up the stem. It boasts rather large flowers ranging from two to seven on a single stem. The flowers are composed of three outer pink sepals whilst the inner sepals are of a greenish hue. The lower petal loosely resembles a bumble bee with a brown lip with yellow markings.
This orchid’s main flowering period is June and July. It has a very specific lifestyle and relies heavily on seed production to produce the next generation as it is mainly monocarpic (flowering once and then dying). So it must set seed. These seeds are only viable for a few days and need specific conditions for germination. The most crucial of these conditions is the presence of a specific fungus of the Rhizoctonia genus. It will then take about eight years for the plant to produce flowers. Occasionally a plant will flower again if it manages to produce new leaves in the autumn. This is the exception.