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Epipactis helleborine flowers2 220703.jpg
Broad-leaved helleborine
( Epipactis helleborine )
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Asparagales
Family: Orchidaceae
Subfamily: Epidendroideae
Tribe: Neottieae
Genus: Epipactis
Zinn 1757
Type species
Epipactis helleborine

See text

Epipactis, or helleborine, is a genus of terrestrial orchids consisting of approximately 70 species. This genus is abbreviated as Epcts in horticultural trade.



Their creeping, fleshy rhizomes grow offshoots, from which then emerge the 20–70 cm long stems during the next spring.

There are four to eight alternate, lanceolate leaves, that grow progressively shorter near the top. The margins are entire, the top is acute. Species with less chlorophyll have blue-purple leaves.

Their bilaterally symmetrical colorful flowers grow from a terminal raceme. The three sepals and the two lateral petals are ovate and acuminate. Their color can vary from greenish-white to violet and purple.

The lip is divided in a bowl-shaped hypochile, with the outer surface greenish-white and threaded with dark veins. The wavy, snow-white epichile is fan-shaped.

The ovary is inferior. It produces a dry capsule with countless minute seeds.


As is characteristic of all orchids, Epipactis spp. are dependent on a mycorrhizal symbiosis (see also Orchid mycorrhiza). This allows some species to have reduced leaves and need little chlorophyll. Violet helleborine (Epipactis viridiflora) can even do without chlorophyll. These forms can be recognized by their purple instead of violet flowers.


The species occur in temperate and subtropical climates of America, Asia, and Europe. These orchids grow in open spaces in forests, in undergrowth, on calcareous soils and are often found in wet dune-slacks near the sea. The only original American species is the giant helleborine ( Epipactis gigantea ). One species from Europe, broad-leaved helleborine ( Epipactis helleborine ), is invasive in North America. Most species are protected.

Most of these hardy orchids grow in a wet environment, but there are exceptions. The marsh helleborine ( Epipactis palustris ) is the only European orchid able to survive in a flooded habitat. Epipactis gigantea is a species found in the American west, and into southern Canada, in wet areas and even streams. It can grow to a height of 1 m. However, Epipactis helleborine grows in more diverse habitats, from sheltered sandy beaches to open spaces in deciduous or coniferous forests, on roadsides, in meadows, and on moist soils. It is sometimes called the weed orchid.


Broad-leaved helleborine Epipactis helleborine - Flora.jpg
Broad-leaved helleborine
Marsh helleborine Epipactis palustris - Keila.jpg
Marsh helleborine
Giant helleborine Epipactis gigantea 4.jpg
Giant helleborine
Epipactis papillosa Epipactis papillosa Franch. & Sav., Enum. Pl. Jap. 2 519 (1878) (50153158331).jpg
Epipactis papillosa
Epipactis thunbergii Epipactis thunbergii flower s1.JPG
Epipactis thunbergii


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