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Marsh Helleborine
Epipactis palustris

Regarded by some as having the most beautiful flowers of all Britain's orchids, this species occurs widely in two colour varieties, pink-brown or cream-green, the latter being referred to as Epipactis palustris var. ochroleuca. The pink-brown flowers are the more common, but in many colonies the cream-green flowers appear in varying numbers. Epipactis palustris grows in neutral to alkaline damp or marshy habitats, particularly in fens and in sand-dune slacks where there is a very high level of ground water. Marsh Helleborine is widespread in England, Wales and Ireland, but it is rare in Scotland. The Marsh Helleborine's strongholds in England - in Hampshire and in Norfolk - appear to be weakening due to land drainage and habitat destruction; however, in some parts of Wales, especially in the coastal dune systems, in good years thousands of plants appear and carpet the ground. Marsh Helleborine flowers from late June to early August. On the European mainland this orchid occurs from Scandinavia in the north to as far south as Italy and Greece.

Distribution Map Key Features
distribution map

Records for the Marsh 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: 20 to 45cm tall, occasionally to 80cm; stem green, flushed pink-to-brown towards the ridged tip, and conspicuously hairy.
Leaves: 4 to 8, mid green, sometimes flushed purple. The lower leaves are oval and the higher ones are larger, strap-shaped and pointed at their tips.
Bracts: green; narrowish and pointed.
Flowers: Up to 25 held in a lax inflorescence which is distinctly one-sided. They are generally purplish with a white lip. Unlike some other Epipactis species the flowers open wide and the lip, which is divided into two distinct parts, is projected forwards and downwards. Sepals are oval, tapering to a point, hairy on the outer surfaces and greenish yellow. Petals are shorter than the sepals; white, flushed pink towards the base. The lip is divided into a bowl-shaped hypochile, which is white and strongly marked with purple veins, and a rounded white epichile that is ruffled around the margin. These two parts of the lip are connected by a flexible hinge-like structure.

Image Gallery for Marsh Helleborine Epipactis palustris

Pollination Taxonomy & Hybrids

The Marsh Helleborine is pollinated by a range of insects, from bees to ants. Self pollination may also occur, and seed set is good.

The specific name 'palustris' means 'marshy ground'.

Subspecies: none.
Hybrids: none.
Varieties: Epipactis palustris var. ochroleuca is pale cream-green and lacks brown and purple pigments, although the hypochile still has purple veins; although not widespread, where it does occur, it can be in large numbers. Epipactis palustris var. albiflora is similar to Epipactis palustris var. ochroleuca but lacks the purple veining on the hypochile.

Articles about Marsh Helleborine in JHOS