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Plant of the Week: Lindisfarne Helleborine

Entry numer #1 in our new Plant of the Week series

It is not every day you encounter an endemic species, nevermind one found exclusively at a single site. That said, that’s exactly what happened this week. To celebrate a fantastic trip to Lindisfarne, the first plant in our new Plant of the Week series is of course, the Lindisfarne Helleborine.

Lindisfarne Helleborine, Epipactis sancta

The Lindisfarne Helleborine is found exclusively on Holy Island, a small island lying just off the coast of Northumberland. Found on the western part of the island, it grows in dune slacks and on dunes themselves alongside Creeping Willow and other plants typical of this habitat.

Originally known as Epipactis dunensis, a species found elsewhere in the UK, the Lindisfarne Helleborine has been on quite the taxonomic journey. Early on it was reclassified as a variety of Narrow-lipped Helleborine, and later as Epipactis pietzi var. sancta. In 2002, researchers settled on a new name, Epipactis sancta, and classified the species as a British endemic.

This plant’s status as a full-fledged species seems to have been short-lived, with new research again demoting it to a subspecies. Either way, it is still a very interesting plant and a joy to behold when spotted.

Part of this plants name, sancta, means ‘sacred’ in reference to it growing on Holy Island.

What does it look like?

Lindisfarne Helleborine is a subdued beauty. Reaching a maximum of 30cm tall, almost all parts of the plant are green. Typically orchid-like, its flowers are green too excluding the lip which is white on the outside on chocolate-brown on the interior. It is easy to overlook where it grows in the company of myriad other green plants.

Given it’s similarities to Epipactis dunensis, identifying this orchid is challenging. Indeed, if all three plants were seen together, I doubt most botanists would be able to tell the difference. Thankfully, this is the only of the group growing on Lindisfarne. As a result, if you spot a green helleborine on the island, it is safe to say you’ve found one!

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