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Marsh Helleborine

Epipactis palustris

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Orchidaceae (Orchid)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
50 centimetres tall
Bogs, fens, grassland, marshes, meadows, riverbanks, sand dunes, seaside, waterside, wetland, woodland.

White, 5 petals
The flowers of Marsh Helleborine, found in damp woodlands and marshes across the UK, exhibit a delicate beauty that captivates observers. With hues ranging from soft pink to deep purple, the blooms sway gracefully atop slender stems, their intricate patterns drawing in pollinators such as bees and butterflies. Each flower, composed of three sepals and three petals, boasts a lip adorned with striking markings, providing a welcoming landing pad for visiting insects. From late spring through summer, these exquisite flowers adorn the landscape, adding a touch of elegance to their marshy habitats. Despite their fragile appearance, Marsh Helleborine flowers are hardy perennials, resilient against the challenges of their environment. Their presence serves as a reminder of the intricate beauty and adaptability of nature in the British countryside.
The fruits of Marsh Helleborine, indigenous to the damp woodlands and marshes of the UK, manifest as small, spherical capsules that emerge after the flowering season. These capsules, often referred to as seed pods, possess a subtle green hue and a smooth, unassuming surface. Within these capsules lie numerous tiny seeds, each encapsulating the potential for new life. As the season progresses, the capsules gradually mature, eventually splitting open to release their precious cargo into the surrounding environment. Dispersal is aided by various mechanisms, including wind, water, and the movement of animals. Though diminutive in size, these fruits play a crucial role in the reproductive cycle of Marsh Helleborine, ensuring the continuation of its species within the British landscape.
The leaves of Marsh Helleborine, thriving in the marshy landscapes and damp woodlands of the UK, exhibit a verdant splendour that contributes to the plant's overall charm. Arranged in a basal rosette, the leaves emerge from the ground, their lanceolate shape tapering to a pointed tip. Each leaf boasts a rich green hue, with prominent veins branching out across its surface, imparting a sense of vitality and vigour. The texture of the leaves is smooth yet slightly waxy, serving as a protective barrier against moisture loss and environmental stress. As the growing season progresses, the leaves provide a lush backdrop to the delicate blooms, their presence a testament to the plant's resilience in its chosen habitat.
The scent of Marsh Helleborine, flourishing in the marshlands and damp woodlands of the UK, is subtle and often elusive. Unlike some fragrant flowers, Marsh Helleborine does not possess a strong or distinctive aroma that readily attracts attention. Instead, its scent is delicate, resembling a faint whisper carried on the breeze. Those fortunate enough to encounter its blooms may detect a mild, sweet fragrance reminiscent of honey or vanilla, though it is not overpowering. The scent of Marsh Helleborine is ephemeral, fleeting like the gentle touch of a passing breeze, adding to the allure of this enchanting wildflower.
Frequency (UK):

Other Information


Epipactis palustris, commonly known as "Marsh helleborine" is a species of herbaceous perennial orchid that is native to Europe, including the British Isles. It typically grows to be about 30-50 centimeters tall, with large, dark-green leaves that can reach up to 20 centimeters in length. It has small, greenish-white or yellow-green flowers that bloom in the late spring or early summer. The flowers are usually small and held in clusters on tall stalks.

Epipactis palustris is often found in damp, marshy habitats such as fens, bogs, and wet meadows, it prefers moist and well-drained soils. It is tolerant of cold temperatures and hardy, it can tolerate temperatures down to -20°C. It is also used in traditional medicine for the treatment of various diseases such as fever, cold, and headache. The plant is not toxic and it is protected species in some countries. This orchid is considered as a rare species, it is protected by law in some countries, and it is important to keep in mind that removing or digging up wild orchids is illegal in many places.


Marsh Helleborine, or Epipactis palustris, is a beautiful and fascinating orchid that is native to Europe and Asia. It is a member of the Orchidaceae family, which contains some of the most diverse and captivating flowering plants in the world. Marsh Helleborine is known for its stunning pink-purple flowers, which bloom in late summer and early autumn.

One of the most interesting aspects of Marsh Helleborine is its habitat. As the name suggests, this orchid thrives in marshy environments, such as wet meadows, fens, and bogs. It prefers moist soil with a high organic content and can often be found growing near water sources. In fact, its roots are adapted to absorb water from the soil, as well as nutrients from decaying organic matter.

Marsh Helleborine is a perennial herb that grows up to 50cm tall. Its stem is slender and unbranched, and its leaves are lance-shaped and can reach up to 10cm in length. The flowers are the most striking feature of this orchid, with their deep pink-purple petals and sepals, which surround a yellowish-green lip. The flowers are arranged in a loose spike, and each spike can contain up to 30 individual flowers.

Like many orchids, Marsh Helleborine relies on pollinators to reproduce. Insects, such as bees and flies, are attracted to the flowers by their bright colors and sweet fragrance. The lip of the flower also contains nectar, which provides a reward for the pollinator. As the insect feeds on the nectar, it inadvertently collects pollen on its body, which it then transfers to another Marsh Helleborine flower, allowing cross-pollination to occur.

Unfortunately, Marsh Helleborine is classified as a threatened species in some parts of its range. Habitat loss and degradation, due to factors such as drainage, land reclamation, and agricultural intensification, have had a negative impact on its populations. Additionally, the use of herbicides and pesticides, as well as the collection of wild plants for ornamental purposes, have further contributed to its decline.

Conservation efforts are underway to protect Marsh Helleborine and other threatened orchids. In some areas, the orchid's habitat is being restored through wetland creation and management. In addition, public awareness campaigns are being conducted to educate people about the importance of these plants and the need to conserve them.

Marsh Helleborine is a remarkable orchid that plays an important role in wetland ecosystems. Its striking flowers and dependence on pollinators make it a valuable component of biodiversity. Efforts to conserve this species are essential to ensure its survival and maintain the ecological services provided by wetlands.

Marsh Helleborine is not only important for its ecological value, but it also has a cultural significance. It has been used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments, such as rheumatism, nervous disorders, and respiratory problems. Its roots contain compounds that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and sedative effects.

Furthermore, Marsh Helleborine has been used in horticulture as an ornamental plant. Its attractive flowers and unique habitat requirements make it a popular choice for gardeners who are interested in cultivating native and rare plants. However, it is important to obtain Marsh Helleborine from reputable sources and to avoid purchasing plants that have been collected from the wild.

If you are interested in learning more about Marsh Helleborine and other orchids, there are many resources available. Botanical gardens and natural history museums often have exhibits and educational programs that focus on orchid conservation and biology. Additionally, there are numerous books and online resources that provide information on the identification, ecology, and cultivation of orchids.

Marsh Helleborine is part of a larger group of orchids known as the Epipactis genus, which contains over 60 species. Many of these species have similar habitat requirements and pollination strategies to Marsh Helleborine. For example, some species, such as Epipactis gigantea, grow in moist woodlands and have large, showy flowers that are pollinated by bees and wasps.

One of the challenges of studying orchids is their complex biology and reproductive strategies. Orchids are known for their unique floral structures and the specialized interactions they have with their pollinators. Some orchids, such as the Ophrys genus, have evolved to mimic the appearance and scent of female insects to attract male pollinators.

Another interesting aspect of Marsh Helleborine and other orchids is their mycorrhizal associations. Orchids have a special relationship with certain fungi, which help them to obtain nutrients from the soil. The orchid provides the fungus with sugars and other compounds in exchange for minerals and water. This symbiotic relationship is essential for the survival of many orchid species, including Marsh Helleborine.

Another interesting aspect of Marsh Helleborine is its genetic diversity. Recent studies have shown that populations of this orchid can have high levels of genetic variation, even within small geographical areas. This genetic diversity is important for the adaptation and evolution of the species, as well as for maintaining the resilience of the population in the face of environmental changes and threats.

In addition, Marsh Helleborine and other orchids have a long history of cultural significance. Orchids have been revered and admired for their beauty and uniqueness by cultures all over the world. In many cultures, orchids have been associated with love, beauty, and strength. For example, in ancient Greece, orchids were associated with the god of love, Eros, and were believed to have the power to induce fertility and passion.

Overall, Marsh Helleborine is a fascinating and valuable plant that deserves our attention and conservation efforts. Its unique habitat requirements, intricate reproductive strategies, and cultural significance make it a compelling subject for scientific research, education, and conservation. By working together to protect and restore wetland habitats and raise awareness of the importance of orchids, we can help to ensure the survival of Marsh Helleborine and other threatened plant species.

30 Marvellous Marsh Helleborine Facts

  1. Scientifically known as Epipactis palustris, Marsh Helleborine is a species of orchid.
  2. It belongs to the family Orchidaceae, commonly known as the orchid family.
  3. Marsh Helleborine is native to Europe and parts of Asia.
  4. The plant typically grows in damp or marshy habitats, hence its name.
  5. It can also be found in wet woodlands, meadows, and along stream banks.
  6. Marsh Helleborine can reach heights of up to 60 centimeters.
  7. The flowers of Marsh Helleborine are typically pink or purple, occasionally white.
  8. Each stem can bear multiple flowers arranged in a loose spike.
  9. The blooms of Marsh Helleborine have a distinctive shape, with three sepals and three petals.
  10. The lip or labellum of the flower is often intricately patterned, serving as a landing platform for pollinators.
  11. Marsh Helleborine flowers bloom from late spring to summer, usually between June and August.
  12. Despite its delicate appearance, Marsh Helleborine is a hardy perennial plant.
  13. It reproduces primarily through seeds but can also spread through rhizomes.
  14. The plant relies on insects, particularly bees and butterflies, for pollination.
  15. Marsh Helleborine is considered a terrestrial orchid, meaning it grows in soil rather than on trees or rocks like epiphytic orchids.
  16. It has a preference for calcareous or lime-rich soils.
  17. Marsh Helleborine has adapted to thrive in nutrient-poor environments.
  18. The plant forms symbiotic relationships with certain fungi, aiding in nutrient uptake.
  19. In some regions, Marsh Helleborine is listed as a protected or threatened species due to habitat loss and degradation.
  20. Conservation efforts aim to preserve its natural habitats and promote its recovery.
  21. Marsh Helleborine has been used in traditional herbal medicine for its supposed medicinal properties, although scientific evidence is limited.
  22. The name "Helleborine" is derived from the Greek word "helleboros," which refers to a different plant genus known for its toxic properties.
  23. Despite the name, Marsh Helleborine is not toxic and does not belong to the same genus as true hellebores.
  24. The genus name Epipactis is derived from the Greek words "epi," meaning upon, and "paktos," meaning thick, referring to the dense roots of some species.
  25. Marsh Helleborine is often associated with folklore and symbolism, representing beauty, grace, and resilience.
  26. It is a subject of interest for botanists, orchid enthusiasts, and nature lovers alike.
  27. Marsh Helleborine populations may fluctuate in response to environmental changes and natural disturbances.
  28. Conservation efforts may involve habitat restoration, monitoring, and public education.
  29. Marsh Helleborine is an indicator species, reflecting the health of its ecosystems.
  30. Appreciating the beauty and ecological importance of Marsh Helleborine can contribute to its conservation and protection for future generations.


Marsh Helleborine at Sandscale Haws National Nature Reserve in Cumbria the 8th July 2023.


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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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