Epipactis helleborine (L.) Crantz


The name Epipactis is apparently derived from a Greek name for the genus Helloborus. The specific epithet helleborine is the Latin meaning "like Helloborus." Both names are apparently due to the similarity of the plants to those of Helloborus.

Photo courtesy of Dan Aussem
DESCRIPTION: Plant arising from a fascicle of fibrous roots, 25-60 (-120) cm high; several stems may arise from the same rootstock. Leaves 3-30, puberulent, ovate-lanceolate, plicate, 3-15 cm long and 1.5-6 (-7) cm wide. Inflorescence a loosely one-sided terminal raceme of 15-30 (-50) flowers, each subtended by a lanceolate to lance-linear green foliaceous bract 2-6 cm long and 1-2 cm wide. Sepals ovate-lanceolate, 1-1.5 cm long and 5-6 mm wide, green and often suffused with pinkish-purple. Petals similar in size and appearance to the sepals. Labellum 1-1.5 cm long and 4-8 mm wide, divided into two portions by a central constriction. The part closest to the column (hypochile) bowl-shaped, purplish-brown and frequently glossy inside, greenish outside. The second part of the labellum (epichile) triangular, white, green or purplish, with a fleshy callus near the point of attachment to the hypochile.

Epipactis is so unique that it could not be confused with any other plant.

Epipactis grows in almost any habitat, but it is usually found under a canopy of trees. In many ways it is a weed, and has even turned up as a weed in gardens in Milwaukee. At The Ridges, in Door County, Epipactis is beginning to aggressively invade undisturbed habitat. The managers have taken steps to control this unusual weed.


In its native Europe, Epipactis is pollinated by wasps (Nilsson 1978), but it is also autogamous (Reference).

DISCUSSION: Epipactis was first found in Milwaukee in 1930 in Lake Park (Fuller 1933). Most likely it was planted somewhere in Milwaukee, as Epipactis was commonly planted by members of garden clubs, etc. after its discovery in New York in 1879. Since 1930 Epipactis has rapidly spread to the counties neighboring Milwaukee, and is found north to Door county. In Door county Epipactis has become very common and is an aggressive weed (see above).

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