Photo by Tara Stevens
The pines that crown Montjuïc are just a scrap of woodland, but they occasionally harbour a floral surprise, especially in the grassy outskirts.
And that’s despite the ruthless housekeeping instincts of Parcs i Jardins, whose mantra when it comes to wild flowers is “Off with their heads!”. The Bee orchid (Ophrys apifera) is always a marvel, but on this over-developed patchwork hill, with its myriad of functions (a dog rescue centre is to be squeezed in next), its appearance seems like a miracle. Somehow, the flower’s utter strangeness is brought into sharper relief in such a location.
Ophrys orchids are tricksters, faking the scent of receptive female bees and producing flowers that mimic the furry insect body. They offer no nectar in exchange for pollination, which is performed by deluded male bees excitedly trying to mate with the flowers.
The markings and structure of the Bee orchid are wonderfully intricate. From a distance it seems that each flower, positioned at intervals along the stem, has a busily feeding bumblebee attached. As you get closer, the impression disappears to be replaced by some bizarre character from a Japanese manga, a laughing homunculus welcoming you with furry arms.
The more you look, the stranger the anatomy of the flower becomes. Pompoms dangling from what resembles a duck’s head turn out to be waxy clusters of pollen, the pollinia. These get attached to the visiting bee during the frenzy of attempted copulation and are carried away to fertilise another flower. Most conspicuous of all is the highly evolved labellum, the velvety bottom petal suggestive of a bee. The angle at which it juts out provides a comfortable platform for the would-be pollinator. Purple and cream markings give the ‘face’ a smart shirt collar. Only the three pink or white sepals in the background correspond to a more conventional idea of a flower.
Lucy Brzoska runs nature tours and writes for www.iberianature.com