Oil on Canvas, 30" x 30", 2020
Orchid: Ophrys apifera
Native Range: Europe, Mediterranean Basin, Southwest Asia, and Caucasus
Pollinator: Eucera bees pollinate 80 of the 150 species of Orphrys, Andrea bees, and wasps
Conservation Status: Local extinction in Turkey and Iran due to overharvesting for salep,
least concern in other areas
“The lion’s share of my time as a child was spent outdoors romping the vast park system that bordered my home. Having been stung numerous times while cavorting through the forest, bees were not my favorite animal. It was not until I learned how integral bees are to life on earth, that my fear turned to respect for these tiny workhorses.
The honeybee alone pollinates one in every three bites of food that we eat. Likewise, the more I research the survival strategies of orchids and the complex relationships they have with their partner pollinators, the more I realize how interconnected and reliant humans, plants and animals all are on each other.
The subject of this painting, commonly known as the Bee Orchid, has both highly evolved markings and scents to accomplish the act of pollination through deception and mimicry. It is not difficult to see the flower resembles a female bee, but the orchid goes a step further. Like an apian ‘Scent of a Woman’, the orchid emits a fragrance similar to the female bee pheromone to attract the males. Well, you can guess the rest.
There are an estimated 200 species of the charming bee orchid throughout its range. However, in Turkey and Iran, the orchid is in peril or extinct due to the human desire for a product called salep, consumed in traditional beverages and desserts.
Salep is starchy flour made from the underground tubers of the bee orchid. The production of salep is unsustainable, requiring 1,000 – 4,000 tubers to make just over a kilo or 2.2 pounds of flour. An estimated 30 tons of tubers from 38 species of bee orchid are harvested annually in Turkey alone.”