White, Narrow-leaved and Red Helleborine.

Helleborines are a sub group of the wider group, the Orchids. The Orchidaceae have about 28,000 currently accepted species, distributed in about 763 genera and as such are possibly the largest family of plants in the world, no doubt there are also many more to be discovered lurking in the higher levels of tropical rain forests across the world. The Helleborines  are made up of just two different genera. They are Epipactis and Cephalanthera,  the latter of which contains these three British species.

None of them are common but the one that is the least rare is the White Helleborine, Cephalanthera damasonium. This flowers quite early in the year and you are most likely to find it in alkaline, chalky or limestone areas and possibly associated with Beech woodland. According to the BSBI it can be found in 233 tetrads in the UK. Most of these are in southern, central areas of England, where it is chalky or limestone terrain, unsurprisingly..

Narrow-leaved Helleborine, Cephalanthera longifolia  This is also known as Sword-leaved Helleborine. It is also found in alkaline soils and it is even more rare, however it does have a more widespread distribution, being also found in the north of the UK particularly north western Scotland, as opposed to the almost exclusively southern distribution of the White Helleborine. However it is only found in 70 tetrads, in the UK and 31 in Ireland.

The plant photographed  was growing on the edge of beech woods up above Stroud in the Cotswolds. There were just two groups, one consisting of two spikes which were well past flowering and were developing their seed pods, this on 19/05/2020 and a second group with three spikes and they were flowering well on the same day.

Finally the star of this show is the Red Helleborine, Cephalanthera rubra, it is not red but is a fantastic pink to purple colour, an absolute stunning orchid. It is also the most rare of these three, being only found in 10 tetrads in the UK, according to the BSBI. It is described as Critically Endangered in the UK.  Also it often does not flower for several years running, just being vegetative and thus not easy to see.

However it is more common in Europe and I have been privileged to see it growing in coastal woodlands in France, although it is more likely to be found in South eastern regions of France.

The photos of the Narrow-leaved Helleborine are my own but I have to thank Jamie Warren for directing me to where it was growing, the other photos were supplied by Julian Clinkard, a friend of a friend. Many thanks to both.

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