White Helleborine Cephalanthera damasonium

Scientific Name: Cephalanthera damasonium. The genus name means 'anther head' and the species name refers to its supposed efficacy as an antidote for toad venom.

English Name: White Helleborine.

French Name: La Céphalanthère blanche (='white helleborine'); la Céphanthère à grandes fleurs (='large flowered helleborine'); l'Elleborine blanche (='white helleborine').

5 Key Characters:
  • leaves held at a 45° angle, not drooping at tip, not above the tip of the flower spike.
  • leaf like bract below each flower, longer than the flower, especially the lower ones.
  • flowers cream, not pure white, upright and do not fully open.
  • orangey yellow blotch inside flower.
  • found mainly on shady calcareous sites.
Lookalikes: Narrow-leafed Helleborine Cephalanthera longifolia, which has longer leaves, no leaf like bracts in the flower spike and whiter flowers which open more fully. They are fairly easy to tell apart and the White Helleborine is not very variable.

Habitat: Generally grows in small colonies on shaded cool calcareous sites. Particularly favours Downy Oak Quercus pubescens woodland in this area. Can occasionally be found in poplar plantations. Often colonises areas that are reverting to scrub. The plants associate themselves with the mycorhiza of nearby trees to gain nutrients. Where you find one Cephalanthera sp you are likely to find the other two.

Flowering Period: May-June-July.

Status: Can be seen within 5km of Preuilly-sur-Claise. Uncommon to very rare and protected. Present on fewer than 10 sites in the Brenne. It used to be considered rare in the Touraine, but it seems it is more that it is localised, and it does not form large colonies. As a woodland species vegetative reproduction is more important than for species of more open habitats and it is usually self-pollinating. It is threatened by habitat loss in this area.

Photographed by Loire Valley Nature:

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