Finally, I’ve met her: The bee orchid at the Rhine port of Basel which has been described as Ophrys apifera var. basiliensis – in 2006, Paul Delforge “downgraded” her to Ophrys apifera f. basiliensis.
My Swiss friend Klaus Hess has told me a couple of years ago about this special population of bee orchids. Now we met at Basel and took the bus to a place called Waldhaus. There, we walked to the bank of the Rhine. Between the railway tracks and the river, limited between the container terminal to the West and the old Auhafen to the East, there is a small strip of grassland quite rich with species. Dominated by Bromus erectus, there is also growing Knautia arvensis, Geranium pyrenaicum, Leucanthemum vulgare and other flowers.
Soon Klaus found the first of these special bee orchids. They are special not only due to their lack of pigments, but also to the special form of the petals. Those are sepaloid, much longer and broader than usual with bee orchids. We are just in the beginning of the flowering time. As Klaus was looking for further plants I studied the flower with my camera – and observed the rare visit of an Andrena bee at a bee orchid. It was just a visit, not a pollination at all, though the bee carried pollen from other flowers. Ophrys apifera is autogamous, and the yellow pollinia are soon falling down to perform self fertilisation.
The next surprise on this Ascension holiday was meeting Stefan Schwegler, who has described those bee orchids as Ophrys apifera var. basiliensis (in: Orchid Review 112/2004).
He showed us a couple of other plants, among them a regular Ophrys apifera with its brown and yellow pigments as well as Platanthera chlorantha, Anacamptis pyramidalis and Dactylorhiza fuchsii. And he told us about the permanent struggle to conserve this special place against commercial interests of the port management. The population of Ophrys apifera var. basiliensis is declining, Stefan Schwegler explained, but still consists of about 100 plants. Most of them don’t flower every year, but wait for their moment to appear.