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White Helleborine
Cephalanthera damasonium

Subject to the same habitat destruction and loss as Sword-leaved Helleborine Cepahlanthera longifolia and Red Helleborine Cephalanthera rubra, the White Helleborine has also declined steeply and has even become extinct in parts of its historical range. The clearing of ancient woodland in order to grow fast-growing cash-crop conifers for profit has done immeasurable damage to our nature. Broadly similar to the Sword-leaved Helleborine, there are two distinguishing features which help with identification: Cephalanthera damasonium is rather more tolerant of dark habitats created by dense tree canopies, and the leaves of Sword-leaved Helleborine are more numerous, narrower and more pointed. The flowers of Sword-leaved Helleborine are also much whiter than the slightly faded-looking creamy white flowers of White Helleborine. To add to the confusion of accurate identification, White Helleborine and Sword-leaved Helleborine often bloom together. A hybrid between these two species has also been recorded. In Britain White Helleborine is classed as Vulnerable; it is confined to the southern part of England, where it flowers from mid-May to late June. On the other side of the Channel, Cephalanthera damasonium is recorded in Scandinavia and the Baltic States in the north and southwards to the Mediterranean Region.

Distribution Map Key Features
distribution map

Records for White Helleborine from BSBI are shown on the map with most recent in front. (Hover the mouse over the small map to expand it.)

CLICK HERE to visit the BSBI website page for updated data and maps with separated data for individual record periods.

Plant: 8 to 60cm in height but many to only 18cm. Stem green and ridged in the upper part, and it can be slightly hairy. There are 1 to 3 membranous sheaths at the stem base.
Leaves: 3 to 5 greyish-green, oval but becoming pointed towards the tip, evenly spaced along the stem.
Bracts: very narrow, greenish and becoming shorter towards the tip of the stem. Lower down they are often longer than the flowers.
Flowers: from 1 to 16 held loosely on the stem. Large and creamy-white, sometimes with a hint of green. When open the flower reveals a bight yellow patch of pseudopollen on the lip. Upper sepal and petals form a loose hood over the lip, which is waisted and forms an epichile and hypochile.

Image Gallery for White Helleborine Cephalanthera damasonium

Pollination Taxonomy & Hybrids

The flowers are sometimes pollinated by small bees, possibly attraced to the pseudopollen, but are thought to mainly self-pollinate.

The specific name damasonium comes from Ancient Greek and means 'I take away/diminish' - perhaps a reference to an assumed medicinal value of this plant.

There are no subspecies. Cephalanthera damasonium var. chloritica is rare, and the plants lack chlorophyll appearing very pale green or yellowish-green. The hybrid between Sword-leaved Helleborine Cephalanthera longifolia and White Helleborine Cephalanthera damasonium, Cephalanthera x schulzie, is rare and has been recorded only from Hampshire and West Sussex.

Articles about White Helleborine in JHOS