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White Helleborine

Cephalanthera damasonium

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Orchidaceae (Orchid)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
60 centimetres tall
Fens, marshes, riverbanks, scrub, waterside, woodland.

White, 5 petals
The flower spikes consist of up to 16 off-white, upright flowers. The yellow centres of the flowers are barely visible because the flowers don't open very much. The more graceful Narrow-leaved Helleborine (Cepalanthera longifolia) is similar in appearance to this Orchid but has pure white flowers, not off-white flowers. Self-pollinated (or sometimes insect pollinated).
The fruit is a capsule which produces many dust-like seeds.
A perennial orchid which is most commonly found in Beech woodland on limy or chalky soil. The long, broad leaves are bluish-green in colour and have parallel venation. The leaves run up the stems alternately. White Helleborine plants have a tendency to grow together in small groups.
Other Names:
Marsh Helleborine, Poached-egg Plant, Water Helleborine.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Cephalanthera damasonium, also known as the water helleborine or the marsh helleborine, is a species of orchid that is native to Europe and Asia. It is a perennial herb that grows to a height of about 20–60 cm. The flowers are typically white or creamy-white in color and bloom from June to August. The plant prefers damp, shady habitats such as marshes, fens, and river banks. It is considered endangered in some parts of Europe and is protected by law in some countries. It is also known as a medicinal plant, used to treat several ailments such as headaches, and as a diuretic.


White Helleborine, also known as Cephalanthera damasonium, is a rare and beautiful orchid that can be found in parts of Europe, Asia, and North Africa. It belongs to the Orchidaceae family, which is one of the largest families of flowering plants in the world.

Description and Appearance

White Helleborine is a medium-sized orchid that can grow up to 40-60 cm tall. Its stem is slender, upright, and leafy, with the leaves being arranged alternately along the stem. The leaves are lance-shaped, glossy, and dark green in color, with a length of 8-10 cm.

The flowers of the White Helleborine are its most striking feature, appearing in early summer from May to July. The flowers are small, about 2-3 cm across, and usually grow in clusters of 2-7 flowers. They are white, with a pinkish or purplish tinge, and have a lip that is divided into three lobes. The lip is heavily veined, with a central spur that is longer than the ovary.

Habitat and Distribution

White Helleborine is a plant that prefers to grow in shady and damp places, such as deciduous and coniferous forests, wet meadows, and stream banks. It is found in various habitats such as limestone hills, rocky slopes, and even along roadsides. The plant's distribution ranges from central and southern Europe, North Africa, and western Asia, with the largest populations in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

Threats and Conservation Status

White Helleborine is a rare and endangered species, and its population has been declining in many parts of its range due to habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation. The plant is also threatened by over-collection by orchid enthusiasts and illegal trade in some countries.

Several conservation measures have been taken to protect the White Helleborine. It is listed as a protected species under the European Union's Habitat Directive, which ensures that all member states provide strict protection for the species and its habitat. The plant is also protected under national legislation in several countries, and several conservation projects have been initiated to monitor and protect its populations.

More Information

White Helleborine has several interesting ecological characteristics that make it unique among orchids. One of these is its reliance on mycorrhizal fungi for its growth and development. The plant forms a symbiotic relationship with specific fungi, which provide it with essential nutrients in exchange for carbohydrates produced by the plant through photosynthesis. The fungi also help the plant to overcome environmental stresses, such as drought and nutrient deficiency, by improving its water and nutrient uptake.

Another interesting aspect of White Helleborine is its ability to self-pollinate. This is a rare trait among orchids, which usually rely on pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and moths for reproduction. The plant's ability to self-pollinate may be an adaptation to its shady and humid habitat, where pollinators may be scarce.

White Helleborine has also been used for medicinal purposes in some cultures. The plant contains several bioactive compounds, such as alkaloids and flavonoids, that have been found to have anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and anti-tumor properties. However, the use of the plant for medicinal purposes is not recommended due to its endangered status and the potential for over-harvesting.

White Helleborine also plays an important role in the ecosystem as a food source for various insects and animals. Its nectar-rich flowers attract pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and flies, which in turn provide a food source for birds and bats. The plant's leaves are also an important food source for caterpillars of some butterfly species, such as the Duke of Burgundy and the Wood White.

Furthermore, White Helleborine is a good indicator of the ecological health of its habitat. Its presence indicates the presence of healthy and undisturbed forest ecosystems, while its absence may indicate habitat degradation or loss. Monitoring the populations of White Helleborine can therefore provide important information on the status of forest ecosystems and the effectiveness of conservation measures.

Despite its rarity and importance, White Helleborine is still threatened by several factors, including habitat loss and degradation, climate change, and illegal trade. Conserving this beautiful plant requires a multi-faceted approach that includes habitat protection, restoration, and management, as well as awareness-raising campaigns and community involvement.

In addition, more research is needed to better understand the plant's ecology, population dynamics, and the mechanisms that underlie its symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi. Such knowledge can help to develop more effective conservation strategies and to ensure the long-term survival of this unique and fascinating orchid species.

Another interesting aspect of White Helleborine is its cultural significance. The plant has been a subject of fascination and admiration for centuries and has inspired many myths and legends in different cultures. In ancient Greece, the plant was believed to have healing powers and was used to treat various ailments. It was also associated with the goddess Hecate, who was said to have used the plant to make magical potions.

In medieval Europe, White Helleborine was associated with Christianity and was believed to have been created by the tears of the Virgin Mary. It was also believed to have protective properties and was used to ward off evil spirits and demons.

Today, White Helleborine continues to inspire admiration and awe among orchid enthusiasts and nature lovers. Its delicate beauty and ecological significance make it a symbol of the natural world's fragility and resilience. Protecting and conserving the plant is therefore not only important for its own sake but also for the sake of the entire ecosystem and the human cultures that have been inspired by it.

In conclusion, White Helleborine is a fascinating and important plant that deserves our attention and protection. Its ecological, cultural, and medicinal significance makes it a valuable asset to our planet's biodiversity, and its rarity and beauty make it a source of inspiration and wonder. Let us all work together to ensure that this magnificent plant continues to thrive and enchant us for generations to come.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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