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Dune Helleborine
Epipactis dunensis

The condemnation of Epipactis dunensis as a boring plant with drab flowers is quite unjustified: in sheltered spots this orchid can grow up to a metre tall. Our understanding of the distribution of this species is evolving, as more colonies of what was once considered to be almost exclusively a coastal plant are discovered inland. Confusion with other species, in particular Epipactis helleborine and the distinct variety Tyne Helleborine (no formal name), further confuse the picture. Dune Helleborine is best known from the slightly raised edges of dune slacks, where it grows up through willow scrub and presents a somewhat scruffy picture. It is a rather sickly pale yellowish-green plant that is much shorter in wind-whipped sand-dune systems. Tyne Helleborine, which grows inland in woodland clearings in Cumbria, other northern counties and southern Scotland, is an altogether 'fresher' and brighter green. Dune Helleborine flowers between late June and mid August, and its flowers can take a frustratingly long time to fully open - some do not. Once open, the flowering period is very short, making this orchid a difficult candidate for getting photographs of plants in peak condition. The Dune Helleborine is endemic to Britain.

Distribution Map Key Features
distribution map

Records for the Dune 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 (typical specimen): 20 to 50cm tall, occasionally to 100cm; stem pale green flushed purple towards the base, covered in fine hairs towards the top.
Leaves: 3 to 10 oval-to-lanceolate, arranged in two opposite rows on the stem; yellowish green with whitish 'teeth' on the margins; deeply veined.
Bracts: strap shaped with pointed tips, longer than the flowers at the base of the inflorescence, but smaller higher up.
Flowers: up to 35 on a lax inflorescence, initially held horizontal and drooping as they open. Sepals narrow, green on the outside and whiter on the inner surface. Petals smaller and whiter than the sepals. The lip is divided into two sections. The inner section (hypochile) is whitish and transparent, allowing the dark chocolate brown of the inner 'cup' to shine through. The outer section (epichile) is heart shaped and broad with a pointed tip and two small bosses that are separated by a narrow groove.

Image Gallery for Dune Helleborine Epipactis dunensis

Pollination Taxonomy & Hybrids

Mainly self pollinated, but when the flowers do open sufficiently insect pollination is possible.

The specific name dunensis means 'of dunes'.

Subspecies: none.
Varieties: the Tyne Helleborine is described at inland locations.
Hybrids: there is a genetically confirmed cross with Broad-leaved Helleborine recorded in Scotland, but the plants are notoriously difficult to identify with accuracy.

Articles about Dune Helleborine in JHOS