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Common Name: Early Spider Orchid
Ophrys sphegodes is a perennial plant that can grow up to 0.45 metres tall.
It is harvested from the wild for local use as a food and medicine
Central and southern Europe, including Britain, to N. Africa.
Grassy slopes, banks and field borders on chalk or limestone[
Plants can be grown in a lawn, but the lawn must not be cut until the plants have set seed[
]. Plants prefer a shady position[
Orchids are, in general, shallow-rooting plants of well-drained low-fertility soils. Their symbiotic relationship with a fungus in the soil allows them to obtain sufficient nutrients and be able to compete successfully with other plants. They are very sensitive to the addition of fertilizers or fungicides since these can harm the symbiotic fungus and thus kill the orchid[
]. This symbiotic relationship makes them very difficult to cultivate, though they will sometimes appear uninvited in a garden and will then thrive. Transplanting can damage the relationship and plants might also thrive for a few years and then disappear, suggesting that they might be short-lived perennials[
The flowers resemble a female insect and also emit a scent similar to female pheremones, they are pollinated by a male insect of that species attempting to copulate with the flower[
]. Plants are rather sparingly visited by bees, setting seed only if visited[
Tubers should be planted out whilst they are dormant, this is probably best done in the autumn[
]. They should be planted at least 5cm below soil level[
Root - cooked. It is a source of 'salep', a fine white to yellowish-white powder that is obtained by drying the tuber and grinding it into a powder[
]. Salep is said to be very nutritious and is made into a drink or added to other cereals and used in bread etc[
]. One ounce of salep is said to be enough to sustain a person for a day[
]. The salep can also be made into a drink[
Salep (see above for more details) is very nutritive and demulcent[
]. It has been used as a diet of special value for children and convalescents, being boiled with water, flavoured and prepared in the same way as arrowroot[
]. Rich in mucilage, it forms a soothing and demulcent jelly that is used in the treatment of irritations of the gastro-intestinal canal[
]. One part of salep to fifty parts of water is sufficient to make a jelly[
]. The tuber, from which salep is prepared, should be harvested as the plant dies down after flowering and setting seed[
Seed - surface sow, preferably as soon as it is ripe, in the greenhouse and do not allow the compost to dry out. The seed of this species is extremely simple, it has a minute embryo surrounded by a single layer of protective cells. It contains very little food reserves and depends upon a symbiotic relationship with a species of soil-dwelling fungus. The fungal hyphae invade the seed and enter the cells of the embryo. The orchid soon begins to digest the fungal tissue and this acts as a food supply for the plant until it is able to obtain nutrients from decaying material in the soil[
]. It is best to use some of the soil that is growing around established plants in order to introduce the fungus, or to sow the seed around a plant of the same species and allow the seedlings to grow on until they are large enough to move.
This species only rarely forms new offsets and so division is seldom feasible, the following methods can be tried, however[
Division of the tubers as the flowers fade[
]. This species produces a new tuber towards the end of its growing season. If this is removed from the plant as its flowers are fading, the shock to the plant can stimulate new tubers to be formed. The tuber should be treated as being dormant, whilst the remaining plant should be encouraged to continue in growth in order to give it time to produce new tubers[
Division can also be carried out when the plant has a fully developed rosette of leaves but before it comes into flower[
]. The entire new growth is removed from the old tuber from which it has arisen and is potted up, the cut being made towards the bottom of the stem but leaving one or two roots still attached to the old tuber. This can often be done without digging up the plant. The old tuber should develop one or two new growths, whilst the new rosette should continue in growth and flower normally[