• Cost of reproduction;
  • density;
  • floral display;
  • Orchis purpurea;
  • pollinator limitation


Deceptive orchids are generally characterized by low levels of fruit set; however, there may be substantial variations in fruit set between sites and years. Within a single population, individual plants may also differ greatly in their reproductive output as a result of differences in inflorescence size or local density. In this study, we determined flower and fruit production over 5 years in two populations of the food-deceptive orchid, Orchis purpurea. All plants were monitored annually for survival and flowering at each site to determine whether flowering and fruiting induced costs. The number of flowers per inflorescence varied considerably from year to year (min: 36.6, max: 49.5). Average fruit set was low (7%) and varied considerably among years and populations. A considerable proportion of plants also failed to set any fruit. However, the probability of producing at least one fruit was not affected by inflorescence size or local density. The number of fruits was significantly related to inflorescence size, but proportional fruit set was not. Local density also did not affect the number of fruits, nor proportional fruit set. There was also no evidence that plants with large inflorescence size or high fruiting success had a larger probability of remaining vegetative the year after flowering than plants with small inflorescence size or low fruiting success. Our results suggest that pollinator-mediated selective forces on inflorescence size through female reproductive success alone are weak, most likely because of the low overall level of visitation and the resulting uncertainty of pollination at the individual level. Our results further demonstrate that investigation of patterns of fruit set over several years is needed to better understand the variability in female reproductive success that is typical of most plant–pollinator interactions.