Ophrys ×royanensis and other Ophrys insectifera Hybrids

This article relates to a visit to the Vercors region of France during early May in 2007 primarily to search for the anthropomorphic Orchis species and their hybrids that thrive there. In addition, the region offers some interesting Ophrys species, notably the virtually endemic “Delforgian” species Ophrys drumana (Photo left), and a highlight of the trip was an encounter with the hybrid between O. drumana and Ophrys insectifera (Photo below right).

This hybrid orchid was described relatively recently by Gerbaud et al. (1993), and the translation of the French text provides an interesting and rather humorous account of its discovery. The authors were engaged in a field trip, searching for rarer orchids in the area around Pont en Royans, when they discovered a single specimen of this hybrid (Photo below left) accompanied by both of its parents (Photos above left and right). Not wishing to destroy their discovery, the hybrid was left in place, but one of the group returned some ten days later to check out its progress. On this occasion the company proved to be “quadruped” in the form of a herd of Charolais cattle complete with a bull. Braving the inquisitiveness of the latter, the intrepid botanist proceeded, but found the ground to be badly trampled and the hybrid "disappeared, probably absorbed by one of the bovines". Fortunately, a meticulous search led to the discovery of a second specimen some ten metres away. Fearing that this plant was also "promised a disastrous destiny" the flowering spike was taken and entrusted to the Natural History Museum of Grenoble. In this article, the authors provided a Latin text, and the hybrid between O. drumana and O. insectifera was formally named Ophrys ×royanensis, reflecting the location of its discovery.

My encounter with Ophrys ×royanensis (photo left ) was far less daunting, with only a rather wet morning to contend with, as the image of O. drumana (Photo top left) illustrates. The site was a small meadow flanked by rather open woodland; O. drumana flowered in the former and O. insectifera (photo above right) in the latter. There were half a dozen hybrid plants, mostly scattered amongst their O. insectifera parent plants. Some hybrid vigour was evident and the tallest measured 45 cm. The flowers of Ophrys ×royanensis exhibit a beautiful mixture of their parents’ features, and they show some variation in their form. A more recent article in L’Orchidophile (Scappaticca & Aubenas 2006) reports the existence of six sites for Ophrys ×royanensis.

After returning from France, I could not resist the temptation to make a trip to Somerset in order to compare Ophrys ×royanensis with the hybrid between O. apifera and O. insectifera. To my knowledge we have one small extant colony of this hybrid, although it has been recorded previously in the Avon Gorge, and near Arundel in Sussex. There are some similarities, and some striking differences, between the two O. insectifera hybrids. The lip of Ophrys apifera × insectifera (photo right) exhibits the characteristic “hairy” side lobes of the Bee Orchid (photo below left) and the two petals of Ophrys ×royanensis are more prominent and darker pink coloured, reflecting those of O. drumana. I was particularly struck by the robustness of the UK Ophrys apifera × insectifera plants, which really did seem to have some hybrid vigour.

An interesting observation by Svante Malmgren (2004), also described in the influential Ophrys monograph by Pedersen & Faurholdt (2007), is the apparent sterility of several experimental hybrids involving cultivated O. insectifera. Pedersen & Faurholdt (2007) use this observation to support their species concepts for Ophrys, but it might be pertinent to the fate of Ophrys apifera × insectifera in the UK. Although this hybrid is not mentioned, its sterility would be in marked contrast to the fertility of seed from the usually self pollinated O. apifera. The latter facilitates the persistence of several variant forms of O. apifera, whereas the former would restrict hybrids to the immediate product of occasional cross pollination.

I am especially impressed by hybrids that involve parents with relatively distinct morphologies, and O. insectifera does provide a significantly different lip from that of many other “bee orchids”. Researching the literature reveals that the Fly Orchid is known to hybridise with several other Ophrys species, including both of our UK Spider Orchids. There are old records from Kent for Ophrys ×hybrida, the hybrid with the Early Spider Orchid (Turner Ettlinger 1997), and both this and Ophrys ×devenensis, the hybrid with the Late Spider Orchid, are encountered regularly on the European mainland. Other known O. insectifera hybrids include those with the closely related O. aymoninii (Ophrys ×tytecaeana), O. scolopax (Ophrys ×nelsonii), O. speculum, and two members of the Pedersen & Faurholdt (2007) O. sphegodes cluster – O. araneola (Ophrys ×apicula) and O. passionis (Ophrys ×fonsaudiensis).

The taxonomic approach to Ophrys advocated by Pedersen & Faurholdt (2007) has some interesting implications for the orchids discussed here. O. drumana would become Ophrys ×flavicans, a partially stabilised hybrid complex derived from the authors’ broadly defined species Ophrys bertolonii and O. sphegodes. Also, all of the binomial hybrid names used here would be discouraged as they do not represent partly stabilised hybrid complexes. This is all very logical and scientifically rigorous, but I can’t help thinking that Ophrys ×royanensis has a certain charm that would be lost in its conversion to what I presume would be Ophrys ×flavicans × insectifera.


Gasson, M. (2008 )Ophrys ×royanensis and other Ophrys insectifera Hybrids. Journal of the Hardy Orchid Society 5:54-58.

Gerbaud, M, Gerbaud, O. & Henniker, C. J. (1993) L'Ophrys du Royan, nouvel hybride naturel en Isère. L’Orchidophile 108: 169-171.

Malmgren, S. (2004) On the origin of Ophrys species. Journal of the Hardy Orchid Society 1: 74-81.

Pedersen, H. A. & Faurholdt, N. (2007) Ophrys: the Bee Orchids of Europe. Kew Publishing, Kew, Surrey.

Scappaticca, G. & Aubenas, A. (2006) Quelques données récentes ou critiques sur les orchidées de la Drôme (sud-est de la France). L’Orchidophile 169: 105-118.

Turner Ettlinger, D. M. (1997) Notes on British and Irish Orchids. Self Published