Cephalanthera longifolia - Narrow-leaved Helleborine

Scientific Name: Cephalanthera longifolia. 'Kephale' is Greek for 'head' and 'anthera' is botanical Latin for the part of the flower which contains the pollen, so Cephalanthera are characterized by pollen recepticles that look like a head. 'Longifolia' is Latin for 'long leaf'.

English Name: Narrow-leaved Helleborine; Sword-leafed Helleborine.

French Name: Céphalanthère à longues feuilles (= 'long-leaved cephalanthera'). Sometimes Céphalanthère à feuilles en épée (= 'sword-leaved cephalanthera').

5 Key Characters:
  • white flowers
  • yellow spot at the base of the labellum (lower petal)
  • bracts (like small leaves between or below the flowers) very short and membraneous
  • often numerous flowers on a spike (6-18)
  • usually single isolated plants
Lookalikes: White Helleborine C. damasonium, which has creamier flowers with an orange spot, larger leafy bracts amongst the flowers and shorter leaves and begins flowering slightly later.

Habitat: Plains, hillsides, dense forest or semi-shaded forest edges, on well drained calcareous or slightly acid soil, warm forests especially with Sessile or Downy Oak, open woodland and banks on calcareous soil, a species of light shade. Has a reputation for turning up in odd places (eg garden lawns) and is especially associated with disturbance. Where you see one Cephalanthera sp you are likely to see the other two.

Flowering Period: April-May-June.

Status: Declining and protected. Locally common in the Touraine Loire Valley and Brenne, where they can be conspicuous, but it is threatened by habitat destruction and very localised north of the Loire. It can be seen within 5km of Preuilly-sur-Claise. It is locally threatened by people who pick it, because of its resemblance to Lily of the Valley.

Photographed by Loire Valley Nature:

Photographs are numbered from left to right and top to bottom. 1 - 3 in the Bois de Pretre, April.

Close up of a single flower, showing the yellow spot on the 'tongue'.

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