by Stephen Mifsud
   23 May 2024      ()
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Ophrys caesiella   (Maltese Brown Orchid)

Ophrys caesiella  (ORCHIDACEAE.) 
Images for this profile are taken from the Maltese Islands after year 2000.

Contents Links   (Detailed Profile)

Nomenclature Morphology
Plant Description and Characters Plant Information and Uses
Species Images External Links
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Orchidaceae spp. Index Plant Family Index
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Profile Date Mar-2007 (taxon update: Mar-2007)
Citation for this page Mifsud, S. (2022). Ophrys caesiella - datasheet created on Mar-2007. Retrieved from on 23-May-2024


Species name :

Ophrys caesiella  P.Delforge

Authority :

Pierre Delforge, Belgium, (1945 -

Synonyms :
(basionym or principal syn.)

Ophrys gazella G.Foelsche & W.Foelsche
Full list of synonyms : [Euro+Med] [PlantList] [IPNI] [POWO] [Catalogue of Life] []

Plant Family :

Orchidaceae  Juss.
(Orchid Family)

English name(s) :

Maltese Brown Orchid

Maltese name(s) :

Dubbiena bikrija ta' Malta

Status for Malta :

Indigenous. Present on the Maltese islands before man

Name Derivation :

Ophrys: Eyebrow, referring to the brown, furry edges found in the flowering lips of several. (Latin origin ); 2 = "Eyebrow", referring to the furry edges of the lips of several species. (Greek);.
caesiella: Caesi means a light skyblue colour and -iella indicates a small structure, hence with reference to the pale blue colour of the speculum of the small lips of the flowers belonging to this species. (Latin origin ); 2 = Caesi- stands for the light-blue colour, with reference to the colour of the speculum, and the ending -ella means small, for the small lip this species of the Ophrys fusca group have.

Remarks :

Morphology and structure



Growth Form





Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)








Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)


Leaf Shape

Leaf Margin




Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)




Basic Flower Type

No. of Petals

No. of Sepals


Dark Reddish-brown and light blue


2 small and inconspicuous and 1 complex and colourful (= the labellum).


Identical, green and oval-lanceolate in shape.


  Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)







Flower consists of 3 identical leaf-like outer segments (= sepals) and 3 inner segments (= petals) of which 2 are small and green and the other is a modified lip-shaped petal called labellum. The labellum is hairy, has 3 lobes (lateral smaller) and a well defined yellow-green margin. The central part of the labellum consists of a pale grayish-blue speculum.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)



Average Flower Size

Pollen Colour

Other Notes


None or very faint

Emits an odour resembling an insect pheromone (sex hormone), for attracting the specific pollinator.

18mm x 20mm x 15mm

(Length x Breadth x Depth including sepals). The Labellum is (8-)9-12(-13)mm long.





No. Per Fruit





> 2,000

Despite the large amounts, propagation by seeds is not much viable for many species of Orchids .

Powder form

(very small to have a distinct shape ).

Extremely small, about 0.1 mm

(powder form).

Light Brown


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)



Fruit Type

Colour of Fruit

Subterranean Parts

Other Notes


Pale Green

(turns light brown when ripe.).

Germination and Growth

The germination and growth of the plant is successful only with the presence of specific microrhizzial funghi in the soil.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)

Plant description and characters

Life Cycle:


Growth Form:

GEOPHYTE (bearing underground bulbs, rhizomes, stolons, etc.)


Garigue, steppe and sometimes open maquis.



Localities in Malta:

Very Rare, reported only in two localities in the Northern part of Malta. Exact localities are kept undisclosed to protect the plant.

Plant Height:


Flowering Period:


Protection in Malta:

Protected by law: Schedule VI of [S.L. 549.44] (strictly protected species)

Red List 1989:

Not listed in the Red Data Book of the Maltese Islands


This Orchid is a sub-endemic species recentely split from the Ophrys fusca complex into an own taxon by Delforge. It is usually a low growing plant (6-12cm c.) but can reach up to 20cm in shaded habitats. The leaves are arranged as a basal rosette, with the younger one growing erect and sheathing the flowering stalk. Leaves have a broad oval shape with a blunt tip. The parallel veins of the leaves are well visible which have finer interconnecting veins in between. The tips or edges are easily blackened by wind currents.

Ophrys caesiella flowers in Malta between end January to beg-March (sometimes few weeks later). The main distinct characters of this species from others in the Ophrys fusca complex are the following:
  1. Labellum size is relatively small, ranging between 8.5mm to 13mm (11mm on avergae).
  2. Labellum have a marked yellow-green border - about 1mm wide.
  3. Indumentum (hairs) are found evenly at many areas of the labellum and stigmatic cavity, but are absent at the longitudinal furrow at the centre of the speculum.
  4. No red coloration (or just a very faint one) at the underside of the labellum.
  5. Colour of speculum is often light/metallic blue.
  6. Basal part of lip from weakly swollen to swollen.

The morphology of the fruit and seeds is similar to the other species of the Ophrys fusca complex.

Information, uses and other details

Nativity and distribution

Ophrys caesiella was first described from the North of Malta by P.DELFORGE in year 2000 and published in Natural Belges 81,3 (Orchid.13) p.233. Briefly, he described this species as rather small-bloomed with a labellum length of 9 to 13 mm, and early in flower. The labellum has velvety brown to purple pilosity and a bright blue labellum. Its petals are much shorter than the petals of the similar Ophrys obaesa. [WWW-142] . It grows in full sun, on alcaline substrates to an altitude of almost 500m and flowers quite early, in February and March. The lip is quite tranversally convex and almost horizontally hold. Its lateral lobes make with the main axis an angle of 26-31°, which is less than for O. bilunulata by which it varies between 35° and 39°. O. bilunulata also flowers later, in March-April. [WWW-143]

Most probably PAULUS in Jour.Eur.Orch. 33 (1) p.141-142 means Ophrys caesiella, when he calls the smaller flowered of the two fusca s.l. of Malta an 'Ophrys leucadica in a locally form', which is pollinated by Zonandrena flavipes. [WWW-142]

DELFORGE also considers specimens found in South of Sicily as Ophrys caesiella. Hence, this plant is a sub-endemic to Sicily and Malta. [WWW-142]

Pollination by Pseudo-copulation involvong pollinator mimicry

Nearly all Ophrys species involve a pollination mechanism related to pollinator mimicry. Each species or group of related species mimics a female species (or group of closely related species) of certain insects like wasps, bees and spiders. The flower also produces the specific pheromone of that female insect. The scent together with the mimicing shape of the lip attracts the male, lands on the lip and during attempts of copulation, pollen sacs detactch from the upper part of the lip and adheres to the body of the male insect. Soon or later, the male will visit another specimen (often of the same species) while carrying the pollen sacs, and during other attempts of copulation, pollinisation takes place. If the insects visits a different Ophrys species from that from which the pollen sacs have been carried from, hybridisation could take place. [WWW-142]

There are two types of pollination:

  1. Abdominal pollination - Abdomen of pollinator is close to the stigmatic cavity (mouth of flower)
  2. Head pollination - Head of pollinator is close to the stigmatic cavity (mouth of flower)

For Ophrys caesiella, the pollinator is the yellow legged mining bee Andrena flavipes (=Zonandrena flavipes) and the pollination type is abdominal. {Click here for viewing an image} [WWW-142]

Some species of the Ophrys fusca complex.

This complex or aggregate is made up of several species which are closely related to each other. Some authors simply considers them all as Ophry fusca s.l. The main charactaristic of this group is that of having an acute angle of about 28-44 degrees between the margin of the labellum and the longitudinal axis. The lip can have a narrow yellow margin which is not wider than 2mm. The Ophrys fusca complex mainly has a mediterranean distribution, with species endemic to Crete, Malta-Sicily, Corsicas and Tunisia. [WWW-147]
  1. Ophrys arnoldii    P. Delforge
  2. Ophrys attaviria    D. Rockbrodt & Wenker
  3. Ophrys bilunulata    Risso (Distribution is still poorly known, may be found in Malta)
  4. Ophrys caesiella    P. Delforge (The species was originally discovered on Malta but also found later in the south of Sicily)
  5. Ophrys creberrima    H. F. Paulus
  6. Ophrys cressa    H. F. Paulus (This species appears to be endemic to the east of Minos' island.)
  7. Ophrys creticola   H. F. Paulus (This quite rare species appears to be endemic to some Cretan mountains)
  8. Ophrys delforgei    P. Devillers & J. Devillers - Terschuren (This is the "O. fusca" form with the smallest flowers in continental France)
  9. Ophrys eptapigiensis    H.F. Paulus
  10. Ophrys forestieri   (Reichenbach Fil.) Lojacono
  11. Ophrys funerea    Viviani
  12. Ophrys fusca    Link (First described in Portugal, but most probably grows in many places of the western Mediterranean basin. Found in Malta)
  13. Ophrys hespera    J. Devillers-Terschuren & P. Devillers
  14. Ophrys leucadica    Renz
  15. Ophrys lucifera    J. Devillers - Terschuren & P. Devillers (It grows in Italy, Tuscany, Sicily and maybe in other places of the central Mediterranean basin. Its distribution area, like that of O. fusca is not yet well understood.)
  16. Ophrys lupercalis    J. Devillers-Terschuren & P. Devillers (This is a very early flowering plant in the South of France. It (or similar species) appears to be found in Malta)
  17. Ophrys marmorata    G. Foelsche & W. Foelsche
  18. Ophrys obaesa    Lojacono
  19. Ophrys pallid   a Rafinesque
  20. Ophrys parvula    H. F. Paulus
  21. Ophrys peraiolae    Foelsche W., Foelsche G., Gerbaud O. & Gerbaud M. (This species appears to be endemic to a very small region close to the cove of Peraiola on the northeastern coast of Corsica)
  22. Ophrys perpusilla    J. Devillers - Terschuren & P. Devillers
  23. Ophrys sabulosa    H. F. Paulus & Gack ex P. Delforge
  24. Ophrys sulcata    J. Devillers-Terschuren & P. Devillers
  25. Ophrys thriptiensis    H. F. Paulus
  26. Ophrys zonata    J. Devillers - Terschuren & P. Devillers

Karyomorphology, heterochromatin patterns and evolution in the genus Ophrys (Orchidaceae)

Karyotype structures and heterochromatin distribution in representative taxa of the genus Ophrys are compared, based on Feulgen-stained and banded somatic metaphase chromosomes. The karyotypes of Ophrys iricolor, O. lupercalis, O. caesiella, O. lutea, O. lunulata, O. x. tardans, O. apifera, O. praecox, O. lacaitae and O. insectifera are described for the first time. The karyological analyses indicate the relationships among the species with respect to asymmetry indices and heterochromatin content. Chromosomal differences have been helpful in clarifying the taxonomic position of Ophrys species that do not have clear affinities. The representative species of Araniferae, Fuciflorae and Ophrys sections exhibited the most asymmetrical karyotypes, while chromosome complements of the O. fusca-O. lutea group, of O. tenthredinifera and of O. bombyliflora proved to be less asymmetrical. Weakly heterochromatic chromosomes, with heterochromatin present mostly in thin centromeric bands, characterize Ophrys C-banded karyotypes. Chromomycin A3 (CMA) staining revealed that the analysed species exhibit a weak pattern of CMA+ bands at centromeric, intercalary or telomeric regions. No DAPI bright blocks were observed. The significance of the karyological data is discussed with regard to the relationships between the analysed species. [389]

Personal Observations

Habitat and morphological variations
Photographs of this profile were based on 2 populations of Ophrys caesiella about 30m apart in a calcareous rocky habitat (garigue). Both populations where growing close to the Mediterranean Thyme (Thymbra capitata ) and had about 25 specimens. The smaller population was growing in partial shade and the largest specimen had a height of 20cm. The other population was in full sun and the average height of the plants was 8-10cm. The lip colour was chocolate-brown, but some specimens had the lips mottled with yellow. The margin of the lip is often narrowly yellow. The basal part of the lip has 2 crests (swollen structures) which per description, they are weak, but in situ, specimens with pronounced basal lips were considerable found. The lip measures 11mm on avarage, but specimens vary by +/- 2mm . The peak flowering season is Febuary, with few specimens flowering a week or two before, while other speciens can be found in flower during the second and third week of March. The speculum is light blue, with darker bluish specks. Some specimens have an unspeckled speculum. In most specimens the speculum is glabrous and as if metallic (polished), noticable in sunlight. The angle between the side of the lateral lobes and the central axis of the lip varies between 28 up to 42 degrees, however the majority have circa an angle of 32 degrees. [SM]

Links & Further literature (2 papers)

Google Web

Google Images

Google Scholar

Research Gate




Med Checklist

Cat. of Life



World Flora Online

Plants of the World Online

Vienna Virt. Herb.

RBGE Herbarium

KEW Herbarium




Recent observations on Ophrys-species and hybrids of the Maltese Archipelago Stephen Mifsud & Leslie Lewis  (2011)
Recent observations on the Ophrys of Malta and Gozo: an Addendum Stephen Mifsud & leslie Lewis  (2013)
Kindly Email if there are papers and publications about local studies or information about this species to be included in the list above.

Photo Gallery   (25 Images)

Photo of the small, reddish-brown flower with a pale bluish speculum.
Photo of the flower, where in this specimen the labellum measures 12.5mm, which is the upper limit of labellar length for Ophrys caesiella.
Photo showing lateral view of flower. Note the dense and even hairs (known as indumentum) on the labellum.
Photo of a flower against a mm scale, showing the small size of the labellum - about 10mm long. One distinctive feature of Ophrys caesiella is that of having a small labellum between 9 to 13mm.
Photo of a young flower which its labellum barely measured 9mm. The other tepals are green.
Close up of labellum of previous plant taken against light to show well the marked yellow-green margin of the labellum, also a characteristic feature for this species.
Close upPhoto of furrow between the speculum and the stigmatic cavity at the mouth of the flower. O. caesiella do not have hairs (indumentum) at the furrow, while the stigmatic cavity is often hairy.
Photo of the yellow-green margin of the labellum and its hairiness at the upper face.
Photo of another specimen with a rather spectacular labellum. The epithet 'caesi-' in caesiella refers to the light/pale blue speculum.
Photo of two flowers of the same plant. The labellar dense hair traps dust particles, as seen in the older flower.
Front view of flower showing the furrow, stigmatic cavity, and the pair of yellow-green pollinia sheltered by the hood-shaped structure formed by the upper tepals.
Photo of another Maltese Brown Orchid plant.
Photo of 2 flowers - note the contrasting yellow-green margin against the dark reddish-brown labellum.
Photo of same specimen of previousPhoto from a different angle.
Scanned and annotated image of the flower.
Scanned image of the flower with the lateral tepals removed.
Scanned image of the flower against a dark background. Labellum of this young flower measures 8.5mm.
Scanned image of the pollinia, column, and stigmatic cavity. There is white hair at the stigmatic cavity which disappears further down the labellum, hence at the central furrow of the speculum.
Scanned image of the lower side of the lip. It is green and seldom tinged by a hint of red.
Photo of a pollinium which contains several coherent (sticky) pollen grains. The base is highly sticky platform which adheres firmly with the body (abdomen) of the pollinator and get carried away entirely.
Photo of the broad ovate leaves with parallel veins.
Photo of leaves which are arranged as a basal rosette. The younger leaves grow erect and sheath around the flower stalk giving it further support.
Photo of a small population of plants in a rocky habitat (garigue). Plants are usually short (6-10cm) but can grow to 20cm as the specimen here.
Photo of leaves which are arranged as a basal rosette. The younger leaves grow erect and sheath around the flower stalk giving it further support.
Photo of a small population of plants in a rocky habitat (garigue). Plants are usually short (6-10cm) but can grow to 20cm as the specimen here.

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