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Narrow-lipped Helleborine

Epipactis leptochila

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Orchidaceae (Orchid)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
60 centimetres tall
Hedgerows, riverbanks, sand dunes, waterside, woodland.

Green, 5 petals
Flowers are arranged spikes of up to 35 but usually much fewer. The slightly nodding, pale yellowish-green flowers often only partly open. They are similar in appearance to the much more frequently seen Broad-leaved Helleborine (Epipactis helleborine) but the petals are much more pointed. Narrow-lipped Helleborine also has a lip with whitish edges and white or purple markings. The flowers are short-lived.
The fruit is a capsule which produces many dust-like seeds.
Narrow, linear, alternate leaves going up the stem. Can be found growing on sand dunes and in beech and birch woods (sometimes also alder and hazel).
Other Names:
Narrow-leaved Helleborine, Small-flowered Helleborine.
Frequency (UK):
Rarely seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Epipactis leptochila, commonly known as "Narrow-leaved helleborine" or "Small-flowered helleborine" is a species of herbaceous perennial orchid that is native to Europe, Asia and North Africa. It typically grows to be about 30-60 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 leptochila is often found in damp, shaded habitats such as woodlands, hedgerows, and riverbanks, 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 but like other species of orchids 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. 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.


The Narrow-lipped Helleborine, Epipactis leptochila, is a beautiful orchid species that is native to Europe and Asia. This species is characterized by its narrow lip, which is a distinctive feature that sets it apart from other helleborine orchids.

Habitat and Distribution

The Narrow-lipped Helleborine is commonly found in damp, shaded habitats such as woodlands, hedgerows, and scrubland. It prefers calcareous soils and is often found growing in areas with high humidity levels.

This species is distributed across Europe and Asia, including countries such as Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, and Russia. It is known to grow at elevations ranging from sea level to up to 2,000 meters.

Physical Characteristics

The Narrow-lipped Helleborine has a single stem that can grow up to 60 cm tall. The stem is green in color and is covered with narrow, lanceolate leaves that alternate along its length.

The flowers of the Narrow-lipped Helleborine are arranged in a loose spike at the top of the stem. Each flower has a narrow lip that is usually greenish-yellow or yellowish-brown in color with reddish-purple veins. The lip is about 10-15mm long, and its narrow shape gives this species its name.

The Narrow-lipped Helleborine blooms from June to August, and its flowers are pollinated by various insects, including bees, hoverflies, and butterflies.

Conservation Status

The Narrow-lipped Helleborine is considered a rare species in many parts of its range, and it is protected by law in several European countries. Habitat loss due to land-use change, including deforestation and urbanization, is a significant threat to this species.

Conservation efforts have been implemented in many areas to protect the Narrow-lipped Helleborine and its habitat. These efforts include the creation of protected areas, the restoration of degraded habitats, and the establishment of ex situ conservation programs.

The Narrow-lipped Helleborine is a beautiful and unique orchid species that plays an essential role in the ecology of its habitat. Its narrow lip and distinctive coloration make it easy to recognize, and it is highly valued by orchid enthusiasts and conservationists alike.

However, the Narrow-lipped Helleborine faces significant threats from habitat loss and degradation, and urgent action is needed to protect this species and its habitat. Conservation efforts must be continued and strengthened to ensure that this beautiful orchid species continues to thrive in the future.

Taxonomy and Nomenclature

The Narrow-lipped Helleborine was first described by the French botanist Jean Louis Marie Poiret in 1810. Its scientific name, Epipactis leptochila, comes from the Greek words "epi" meaning "upon," "pactis" meaning "pitcher," and "leptos" meaning "thin," and "chilos" meaning "lip." This refers to the narrow shape of the flower lip.

Ecological Role

The Narrow-lipped Helleborine is an important species in the ecology of its habitat. It provides nectar and pollen for a variety of insect pollinators, including bees, hoverflies, and butterflies. Its seeds are dispersed by the wind, and the plant also plays a role in soil stabilization and nutrient cycling.


The Narrow-lipped Helleborine is a popular orchid species among collectors and enthusiasts. It can be grown in cultivation, but it requires specific conditions to thrive. It prefers a cool, humid environment with good air circulation and bright, indirect light. It also requires well-draining soil and regular watering.

Medicinal Uses

The Narrow-lipped Helleborine has been used in traditional medicine in some parts of its range. Its roots have been used to treat various ailments, including fever, pain, and digestive disorders. However, the use of this plant for medicinal purposes is not recommended due to its potential toxicity.


The Narrow-lipped Helleborine can hybridize with other Epipactis species, including the Broad-leaved Helleborine (Epipactis helleborine) and the Green-flowered Helleborine (Epipactis phyllanthes). The resulting hybrids can be difficult to identify due to their intermediate characteristics.


In addition to habitat loss, the Narrow-lipped Helleborine faces other threats, including climate change, invasive species, and over-collection. Climate change may alter the timing of flowering, which could disrupt the plant's pollination and seed production. Invasive species, such as Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica), can outcompete and displace native plants. Over-collection for ornamental and medicinal purposes can also harm the species and its populations.


The Narrow-lipped Helleborine is protected by law in many European countries, and several conservation efforts have been implemented to protect the species and its habitat. For example, in the United Kingdom, the Narrow-lipped Helleborine is a priority species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, and efforts have been made to restore and improve its habitat in designated protected areas.


In some cultures, orchids, including the Narrow-lipped Helleborine, are associated with love, beauty, and fertility. In ancient Greece, orchids were believed to be a symbol of virility, and the plant was used as an aphrodisiac. In Japan, orchids are a symbol of purity and nobility, and they are highly valued for their beauty and rarity.

Geographic Distribution

The Narrow-lipped Helleborine is native to Europe and Asia. Its range extends from Scandinavia in the north to the Mediterranean in the south, and from Ireland in the west to western Siberia in the east. It is a rare and localized species and is often found in small, isolated populations.


The Narrow-lipped Helleborine is a perennial herb that typically grows to a height of 20-50 cm. It has a single stem with several pairs of leaves, which are oval-shaped and pointed at the tip. The flowers are arranged in a loose spike, with each flower having a narrow, tubular lip and a broad, hood-like upper sepal. The flowers are typically pink or purple, but can also be white or yellow.


The Narrow-lipped Helleborine grows in a variety of habitats, including woodland edges, scrubland, meadows, and rocky outcrops. It prefers well-drained soils and partial shade, and can tolerate a range of soil pH levels. In some regions, it is associated with limestone or chalk soils.


The Narrow-lipped Helleborine is pollinated by a variety of insects, including bees, hoverflies, and butterflies. The flowers produce nectar and pollen as a reward for pollinators. The narrow shape of the flower lip is thought to help prevent self-pollination and promote cross-pollination by forcing insects to brush against the reproductive structures of the flower.

Uses in Folklore

In some cultures, orchids, including the Narrow-lipped Helleborine, have been associated with magic and superstition. In medieval Europe, orchids were believed to have medicinal and aphrodisiac properties, and were used in love potions and charms. In some parts of Asia, orchids were used to make perfumes and incense.

In conclusion, the Narrow-lipped Helleborine is a fascinating plant species with many interesting characteristics and cultural associations. Its unique morphology, ecological role, and geographic distribution make it an important species for conservation and protection. By learning more about this species and its habitat, we can work together to ensure that it continues to thrive in the wild.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

Click to open an Interactive Map