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Narrow-lipped Helleborine
Epipactis leptochila

The Narrow-lipped Helleborine is difficult to spot and its occurence may well be under-reported. In the British Isles it is thought to be confined to southern England, and even there it is localised and scarce. This species, which favours dark, shady spots and seems to be intolerant of bright sunlight, is found only in chalk or limestone woodland habitats, predominantly in beechwoods although it is also associated with yew and with hazel coppice. Epipactis leptochila has a short flowering time, between mid July and mid August, and the number of plants appearing each year is very variable. Once thought to be endemic to Britain, this orchid has since been found on the European mainland, where its range extends from Denmark in the north, south to Italy and eastwards across much of Central Europe.

Distribution Map Key Features
distribution map

Records for the Narrow-lipped 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: 15 to 60cm tall, occasionally to 70cm; stem green and hairy in the upper part. Plants are normally single-stemmed, but occasionally up to 5 or 6 stems can arise from a single rootstock.
Leaves: up to 7 semi-erect bright-green opposite leaves in two rows on the stem; they are rather limp in appearance.
Bracts: narrow and pointed; on the lower part of the stem they are longer than the flowers and hang noticeably downwards; higher up they are shorter.
Flowers: up to 35 on a lax, one-sided inflorescence; fresh green to yellowish, they are relatively large and pendulous. The sepals are triangular with extended tips, pale green on the outer surface and whiter on the inside. Petals are similar but smaller and whiter, sometimes flushed pink with darker veining. The lip is divided into two sections. The inner part (hypochile) is pale green on the outside with pink flushing, and pale on the inside with a dark reddish-brown centre that contains nectar. The outer part (epichile) is white to green, arrow-shaped with a distinctively long tip. Two small smooth bosses at the base of the lip are flushed pink or purple.

Image Gallery for Narrow-lipped Helleborine Epipactis leptochila

Pollination Taxonomy & Hybrids

Epipactis leptochila is normally self-pollinated, but the nectar does attract insects and cross-pollination may also occur. Seed set is good.

The specific name 'leptochila' means 'slender-lipped'.

Subspecies: none.
Varieties: Epipactis leptochila var. cleistogama has been reported from Gloucestershire, but it may now be extinct. Epipactis leptochila var. cordata is characterised by a shorter, heart-shaped lip, but this variety has also not been recorded for some years.
Hybrids: none.

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