Plant Profiles Dune Helleborine

Orchids are a very broad group of flowering plants known for their aesthetic qualities. Typically orchids require special conditions and each orchid can be very different as to those conditions and the different areas they inhabit. There are a vast number of orchid species and numerous hybrids have also been created. One very rare species of orchid is the dune helleborine (epipactis dunensis).

Dune helleborine – (picture link)             

The dune helleborine can reach heights of 30 to 36 inches and can be sometimes difficult to spot. Its leaves are a yellow-green color and cover the entire stem of the orchid in two separate rows. Leaves at the bottom of the stem are larger than the ones at the top near the flowers.

Flowering occurs on many different spikes that cover the upper half of the plant. The colors of the flowers are a yellowish-green and the lip of the flowers will be a light pink. Despite flowers seeming to be fully formed, it can take several weeks for them to start opening. The flowers bloom later than some orchids and don’t start until July and August.

Growing conditions

The dune helleborine grows along the sides of sandy dunes in large numbers but can also be found closer inland. This orchid has been known to grow in woodland in large numbers as well as in scrub area that may be contaminated from coal mining slag. These orchids have a very high tolerance for heavy metals and are able to grow in these areas of contamination. Specimens of this plant that are found in a forested area are typically much taller than those found in sand dunes. This is due to better protection from the elements in the forest than in the more exposed dunes and meadow. The dune helleborine grows in the UK in several locations such as in North Wales and northwest England as well as North Merseyside.

Rarity and upgraded

The UK is responsible for the protection of the dune helleborine because of the fact that this orchid does not grow anywhere else in the world. Known colonies of the orchid are mostly on protected sites. The plant was also recently upgraded from its status as a sub-species of epipactis leptochila (narrow-lipped helleborine) to the status of a full species. It was originally thought to be the same species until studies were performed and it was revealed that the DNA between the two was different.

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