The mirror crack'd: both pigment and structure contribute to the glossy blue appearance of the mirror orchid, Ophrys speculum


Author for correspondence:

Beverley J. Glover

Tel: +44 1223 333938



  • The Mediterranean orchid genus Ophrys is remarkable for its pseudocopulatory pollination mechanism; naïve male pollinators are attracted to the flowers by olfactory, visual and tactile cues. The most striking visual cue is a highly reflective, blue speculum region at the centre of the labellum, which mimics the corresponding female insect and reaches its strongest development in the mirror orchid, O. speculum.
  • We explored the structure and properties of the much-discussed speculum by scanning and transmission electron microscopic examination of its ultrastructure, visible and ultraviolet (UV) angle-resolved spectrophotometry of the intact tissue, and mass spectrometry of extracted pigments.
  • The speculum contrasts with the surrounding labellar epidermis in being flat-celled with a thick, smooth cuticle. The speculum is extremely glossy, reflecting intense white light in a specular direction, but at more oblique angles it predominantly reflects blue and UV light. Pigments in the speculum, dominantly the cyanidin 3-(3′′-malonylglucoside), are less diverse than in the surrounding regions of the labellar epidermis and lack quercetin copigments.
  • Several physical and biochemical processes interact to produce the striking and much-discussed optical effects in these flowers, but the blue colour is not produced by structural means and is not iridescent.