Small Leaved Helleborine - Epipactis microphylla

Scientific Name: Epipactis microphylla. 'Epipactis' = a word used by ancient Greek botanists to designate Helleborines. 'Microphylla' is from the Greek mikros (='small') and phyllon (='leaf') - a reference to the small size of the leaves.

English Name: Small Leaved Helleborine.

French Name: Epipactis a petite feuilles (='small leaved epipactis')

5 Key Characters:
  • a very discreet plant, often difficult to see in the surrounding vegetation.
  • stem covered in grey down.
  • the flowers always look as though they are not quite open, and hang down with their faces to the ground.
  • rarely very many plants on a site.
  • flowers greenish washed with pink.
Lookalikes: Muellers Helleborine Epipactis muelleri, which is larger and more brightly coloured.

Habitat: Moderately lit places on calcareous soil. Prefers dry soil, but also soil that is moist, cool and deep ie it seems to have two ecotypes. This is a plant that grows in the heart of quite shady forest, but not in the deepest shade, most frequently between parcels of Downy Oaks Quercus pubescens woodland or sometimes amongst Common Juniper Juniperus communis on calcareous grassland, on the edges of woodland. Grows in leaf litter or bare soil and is quite warmth loving. Because of its very specific habitat requirements it is very sensitive to habitat disturbance. It is associated with fungus, particularly truffles, both being symbiotically attached to the surrounding Downy Oaks through their mycorhizal partners.

Flowering Period: May-June-July.

Status: Can be seen within 5km of Preuilly-sur-Claise and there are 25 sites in Indre et Loire (37) and 14 in the Brenne where it is present. Very rare and protected (it is rare throughout its range). It is probably present on more sites, but under recorded because of how difficult to spot it is.

References and Further Reading:
Flore remarquable du Parc naturel régional de la Brenne by Francois Pinet, an excellent field guide for the rare plants of the area, devoting a page to each species with a photo and details specific to the Brenne (in French).

Les Orchidées de France, Belgique et Luxembourg by the Société Francaise d'Orchidophilie, the bible for French wild orchids.

Atlas des orchidées d'Indre-et-Loire by Jean-Pierre Amardeilh, an excellent field guide for the Touraine wild orchids, with each species given a page, with photo and distribution map.

Photographed by Loire Valley Nature:

All photographs will enlarge in a new window if you click on them. Row 1 on the edge of the Bois de Breuil, May.

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