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Violet Helleborine
Epipactis purpurata

The Violet Helleborine is very localised and uncommon, being confined to the southern half of England, where it grows in woodlands with beech, hazel, hornbeam and oak. Violet Helleborine is also found in hedgerows and gardens, tucked away in very dark places where its showy flowers create quite an impression. Flowering between mid July and mid September, this is one of our latest flowering orchids. Epipactis purpurata has declined considerably in recent years, as our ancient woodlands have been destroyed to plant fast-growing conifer cash-crops. On the European mainland this orchid is confined to central and western countries, ranging from Denmark in the north to France and into parts of Central Europe.

Distribution Map Key Features
distribution map

Records for the Violet 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: usually 20 to 70cm tall, but occasionally to 90cm; stem greenish-grey, sometimes purple; covered with dense greyish hairs. Plants with mutiple stems are fairly common.
Leaves: up to 14 small dull-green oval leaves are spaced along the stem; their purplish undersides are a useful feature for identification of this species.
Bracts: green, washed purple; narrow and held horizontally; becoming smaller towards the tip of the stem.
Flowers: 7 to 100 flowers, but usually up to 40, carried on a slightly one-sided inflorescence; relatively large and open wide; predominantly pale green, sometimes almost white but with pink lips. Sepals triangular and rather large. Petals smaller and whitish. The lip is divided into two sections. The inner section (hypochile) is white on its outer side and can be pink, green or brown inside. The outer section (epichile) is heart shaped and folded backwards towards the tip; it is white but with two prominent pink bosses at the base.

Image Gallery for Violet Helleborine Epipactis purpurata

Pollination Taxonomy & Hybrids

Epipactis purpurata produces nectar, which attracts wasps and is said to intoxicate the insects. Despite this, pollination is successful and seed set is good.

The specific name 'purpurata' means 'purple'.

Subspecies: none.
Varieties: Epipactis purpurata var. rosea is a beautiful plant which lacks chlorophyll and is rose pink with whitish flowers.
Hybrids: Epipactis purpurata x schulzei, a hybrid with Broad-leaved Helleborine Epipactis helleborine, is frequently reported.

Articles about Violet Helleborine in JHOS