Broadleaf Helleborine

Broadleaf Helleborine

Broadleaf Helleborine - Epipactis helleborine

A friend sent me a picture of a flower the other day asking for identification.  It reminded me that I wanted to learn more about this flower – a relatively common little orchid.  So, I headed to the woods last night in search of it.  Many orchids have very specific habitat requirements.  This introduced species, sometimes referred to as the weed orchid, is not so discriminating.  I have found it clinging to banks of rocky creeks, under conifers or deciduous trees, and in wide open spaces.  Of course, last night, I couldn’t find it in good light, but I did find it.  The sun was low and the woods were getting dark, so I had to use my flash… something I don’t do often, preferring natural light whenever I can manage it.

It’s fun to poke around the Internet to learn about flowers, especially “non-native” ones.  You find websites from the US that warn of the plant’s invasive tendencies, and websites from Europe that teach you how to care for the plant in your garden.  Around here, I find the “invasive” warnings to be unnecessary, as I rarely find huge patches of the stuff – just an isolated plant here or there.  A paper from the DNR in Wisconsin on this species noted no danger of invasiveness in some habitats studied, but suggested other similar habitats are impacted.  Scientists are keeping their eye on it and some states do have control plans in place.

Broadleaf Helleborine Broadleaf Helleborine

Broadleaf Helleborine is an orchid with multiple blooms per stem reported to come in many color variations from green to white to cream to pinkish-purple.  Several websites claim that Broadleaf Helleborine was introduced to North America for medicinal purposes, though none said what it was used to treat…

So I decided to hit the books.  Google Books, that is.  I found a book about the orchids of Russia from which I pulled these facts:

  • Seeds that find suitable habitat will concentrate all their growth efforts underground for 3 to 9 years before sending up a shoot visible above ground.
  • The plant may not produce flowers until it is 10 or 11 years old.  (Given its slow start, it’s hard to believe it can be invasive, isn’t it?)
  • Once it starts blooming, it may produce flowers annually with the number of blooms on the stalk diminishing in each subsequent year.
  • The full life span of an individual plant may be as long as 35 years.
  • Seeds can be formed via self-pollination, or by cross-pollination.  Wasps tend to be the primary pollinator attracted by nectar, which “may be” narcotic to them.  (Whoa!)

Nothing in that one about medicinal uses, though.  So, I added “medicinal” to my search and found a handbook to plant lectins (whatever they are).  I’m afraid the medical lingo was thick enough that I couldn’t decipher exactly what it said.  My take-away:  scientists have isolated something from the leaves of this plant that does something.  Ha ha.  Good, eh?  Click the book cover image to go to the online text and see if you can decipher it any closer than that.  (Feel free to post your interpretation below!)

Another blogger reported that this plant is used to cure insanity.  I rarely trust bloggers (don’t take it personally), so I started looking and looking and looking to find an online source to confirm that.  The closest I got was a listing in a google books search that looked like this:

Handbook of Medicinal Plants
Supriya Kumar Bhattacharjee – 2000 – 474 pages – Snippet view
Epipactis SW. Orchidaceae Epipactis helleborine (L.) Crantz. : It is a terrestrial orchid with stout stem. Leaves are variable. … The roots of these plants are medicinal which cure insanity. Epipactis latifolia Wall. …

The full text of this book is not available online.  I don’t know how google decides what to display and whether I can trust that these words all refer to “my” flower.  I think it does, based on a little further examination:

Still, I found no primary source for “bringing it to North America” for medical or any other purpose.  I probably won’t look any further, either.  But I do find it fascinating how many web sources simply quote each other.

Anyway… there you have it:  Broadleaf Helleborine, also known as Weed Orchid and Bastard Helleborine.  It blooms from June through September – so as you’re hiking around the woods this summer, keep your eye open for it!  I’ve seen it at Chautauqua Gorge, Bentley Sanctuary, and in the woods behind Bergman Park.  I haven’t been to other spots just lately, but if I see it other places, I’ll add to this list.

Learn More:

Nest Box Walk

We had a perfect day for the first in our Summer Learning Series at Audubon. Terry LeBaron led a Nest Box walk to kick off the summer courses and I tagged along adding my two-cents now and again.

Terry, Pam, Amy

Pam Checks Resident of Wren Box
Pam checks residents of a Wren box

The only current residents of the boxes now are House Wrens and mice.

House Wren Eggs

House Wren Babies
House Wren Babies

Amy holds Baby House Wren
Amy discovers that day-old babies are so ugly they’re cute.

Baby House Wren
Baby House Wren

And… the mice:
This photo was taken by Katie Finch, staff naturalist, last week during Day Camp. Her picture turned out so much better than mine!

Earlier in the week a box of Tree Swallows fledged and almost immediately House Wrens began building on top of the abandoned nest. Whether this is a dummy nest or the real thing remains to be seen.

Each Box Has a Story

Participants in the class were especially excited to take a peek in our parking lot Kestrel box.

Pam Peeks into Kestrel Nest Box
Peeking into a Kestrel Box

American Kestrel Eggs
According to Terry’s records, these Kestrel eggs should be very near hatching. The plan is to video record when Emily is banding them… If you happen to be there that day, you can be an “extra” in the film!

Bird Banding at JANY (MAPS)

Acronyms. They can drive you crazy.

MAPS = Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship.
JANY = Jamestown Audubon New York

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Siblings

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Siblings - banded at Tom LeBlanc's SWAT (MAPS) Banding Station in Allegany State Park

Each MAPS station needs a unique four-letter code for the database. Tom’s station at Allegany is SWAT, which is not an acronym, but an activity you engage in while visiting: the bugs can be thick there! You can read about his banding adventures at

There are also four-letter codes for the bird names. These are abbreviations, not acronyms.

Juvenile American Robin
This is an AMRO – American Robin

Someday, he might look like his daddy:
Handsome male American Robin

House Wren
This is a HOWR – House Wren

This particular HOWR had a beak that didn’t line up properly:
House Wren's Crooked Beak
Shall we call her a HOWR with a CRBI (crooked bill)?

Gray Catbird
GRCA = Gray Catbird

Now, you might be thinking, “Oh, I get it! Use the first two letters of the first name and the first two letters of the second name. Easy!”

Not so fast…

Yellow Warbler
This one (from last week) is a YWAR – Yellow Warbler – which I don’t get. There is no other bird called YEWA, so why YWAR?

The hyphenated names, too, get weird, though some are logical – like Tom’s Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers above. They are, of course, YBSA.

This week, we were most delighted to recapture this fellow:

Hooded Warbler
HOWA – Hooded Warbler

He is the one that got away last week before weighing and before pictures, for which we teased poor Eric mercilessly. And we made him hold the bird for pictures:

Eric holds the one who got away
Eric and HOWA

I had to leave at 7:45am to go to work. I’m sure they caught lots more COBI (cool birds) after I left. (I made that last one up myself!)