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Dark-red Helleborine
Epipactis atrorubens

In the British Isles Dark-red Helleborine is found exclusively on limestone and is most closely associated with our areas of limestone pavement although it also occurs, again in areas of limestone, on well-drained grassy slopes and meadows and in old quarries. In Britain this orchid is classified as Nationally Scarce, and it occurs only in scattered localised sites, two of the more famous of which are Great Orme in Llandudno, north Wales, and, Bishop Middleham Quarry near Durham, in England. There are also good sites in Cumbria, Derbyshire and Lancashire. In Ireland Dark-red Helleborine occurs on The Burren, in County Clare. Although Epipactis atrorubens plants are somewhat similar to those of Broad-leaved Helleborine Epipactis helleborine, the feature which sets Dark-red Helleborine apart are its deep-red flowers with bright yellow anther caps that gleam in the centre. This orchid flowers between early June and August, peaking in late June and early July. On the European mainland, Epipactis atrorubens occurs from Scandinavia in the north as far south as Greece, Italy and Spain.

Distribution Map Key Features
distribution map

Records for the Dark-red 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: 12 to 60cm tall, occasionally to 100cm. Stem dull green flushed purple towards the base, or sometimes entirely purple; densely covered with white hairs.
Leaves: up to 10 dark-green, keeled leaves (sometimes flushed purple) in opposite rows on the lower part of the stem. Leaves higher up become progressively narrower and are pointed.
Bracts: narrow, pointed; green sometimes flushed purple, becoming smaller towards the top of the stem.
Flowers: up to 45 somewhat drooping flowers on a very lax one-sided infloresence. Sepals and petals are red, sometimes paler on their inner surfaces. The anther cap and pollinia are bright yellow. The lip is divided into an inner part (hypochile) and an outer part (epichile). The hypochile is green on the rear outer surface, becoming deep red towards the front; its centre is a pale olive green marked with purple spots. The epichile is heart shaped and deep red, with two wrinkled bosses forming a v-shape in the centre.

Image Gallery for Dark-red Helleborine Epipactis atrorubens

Pollination Taxonomy & Hybrids

The Dark Red Helleborine is cross-pollinated by various bees and hover flies which feed on the nectar produced by the flowers. Vegetative reproduction may take place.

The specific name 'atrorubens' means 'dark red'.

Subspecies: none.
Varieties: variation occurs particularly when the plants are in open sunny areas, causing the flowers to be more green. Epipactis atrorubens var. albiflora has white flowers and has been reported from Scotland. Epipactis atrorubens var. lutescens has yellow or beige flowers; it has been reported from The Burren in Ireland.
Hybrids: Epipactis x schmallhausenii is a hybrid with Broad-leaved Helleborine Epipactis helleborine; it has been reported from Cumbria and some other sites.

Articles about Dark-red Helleborine in JHOS