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HELLEBORINES IN CUMBRIA

The Helleborine or Epipactis Orchids have narrow spikes of flowers, often tall and sparse-looking and emerging from the ground with the stem bent double. They are characterised by the lip being divided into an inner cup (or hypochile) and an outer flap (or epichile) joined by a fixed plate, except for the Marsh Helleborine where the join is flexible. Five members of this family are found in Cumbria.

BROAD-LEAVED HELLEBORINE
E. helleborine

  • The commonest Helleborine in Cumbria, being found in open deciduous woodland, especially Beech, in all areas between the Lake District and the coast.
  • Flowers are generally greenish-red, with the hypochile reddish-brown inside.
  • Leaves relatively large, mid-green, veined and placed all round the stem.
  • Often the tallest of the five Helleborines found in Cumbria, typically 30 - 40 cm but can be 80 cm tall.
  • Tends to flower a week or two later than the others - late July to early August.

 

DARK-RED HELLEBORINE
E. atrorubens

  • This orchid, rare in England and Wales but more frequent in Scotland, is found in Cumbria only on limestone pavements at the head of Morecambe Bay and at Hodbarrow.
  • Flowers are wine-red, with the hypochile green with a red margin and red spots inside.
  • Leaves dark dreen, folded and arranged in two opposite rows up the stem.
  • Typically 30 cm tall but can be more than double that; suffers from deer biting off the stem preventing seed set.
  • Usually flowers earliest of the five species in Cumbria, typically at its best in the first week of July.

 

DUNE HELLEBORINE
E. dunensis

  • This rare orchid occurs only in dune slacks at Sandscale Haws, where it can be present in the hundreds on the dune sides rather than the floor of the slack.
  • Flowers are small, yellowish-green and washed pink, with the epichile triangular, broader than long and folded back at the tip.
  • Leaves are small, yellow-green and arranged in two rows up the stem.
  • Typically 30 - 35 cm tall and difficult to spot.
  • Generally at its best in second and third weeks of July.

 

 

GREEN-FLOWERED HELLEBORINE
E. phyllanthes

  • Somewhat out of its normal woodland habitat this species can be found at Sandscale Haws (sometimes in good number) and North Walney (in very limited number), usually under shrubs or poking out from beneath Creeping Willow.
  • Flowers are small, green, hang almost vertically and rarely fully open.
  • Leaves are short, apple-green and usually well spaced (with a x20 hand lens cilia can be seen on the leaf edges that are grouped irregularly, whereas in all the others they are regular).
  • Flowering times similar to Dune Helleborine.

 

 

MARSH HELLEBORINE
E. palustris

  • This, the most attractive of the Helleborines, is abundant in dune slacks around the Duddon Estuary and in damp limestone grassland around Kirkby Stephen, but otherwise now lost elsewhere.
  • Flowers are purple veined white, with the epichile white with frilled or crimped edges and a yellow boss.
  • Leaves are mid-green, with the lowest two often egg-shaped, wrapped around the stem.
  • A short (20-25 cm) one-sided flower spike.
  • Usually at its best by mid-July.