Saturday, September 1, 2012

Broad-leaved Helleborine at Clayton Beach in Larrabee State Park

Larrabee State Park, which is south of Bellingham, Washington, is situated on the coast, but includes both seashore and "mountains," since it is in an area where the Chuckanut Mountains border the coast.  The Chuckanuts are part of the Cascade Range and are more foothills than mountains, but they are the only part of the Cascade Range that comes down to the sea.  They are also a wonderful place for native orchids.

In this case, however, the orchid we went to see in Larrabee State Park was down near the shore, and even more interestingly, is not a native.  Epipactis helleborine, the Broad-leaved Helleborine, is native to Europe, but has made its way to this country and has naturalized itself all across the northern United States and southern Canada to the extent that it is considered to be nothing but a weed by some folk.

In this case it grows in some abundance along the trail to the Clayton beach area of Larrabee, near a railroad track that runs through the park (one has to cross the tracks to get to the shore).  It is, in fact, most abundant in the brush along the tracks, which makes me wonder if it was not spread or distributed there in some way by the railroad itself, either by construction crews or by the trains as they move through the park.

Whatever its origin in Larrabee, it has spread up the trail from the tracks and into the woods on both sides of the tracks.  It grows there in two color forms, green with a pink lip and purplish with a darker lip, and is quite variable in plant size, number of flowers and flower size.  It is our only non-native orchid and one of only two species belonging to the genus, Epipactis.  The other, quite rare, is the Stream Orchid or Chatterbox, Epipactis gigantea.

Interestingly, when I was there on August 13th the darker flowers were starting to show signs of age, but the lighter flowers were fresh, and there were some that may have been the completely green form that were not yet open.  I intended to go back and see if they were indeed an "alba" form, but due to other pressures never made it back, which only gives me an excuse to go back next year to check on them.


  1. Planta maravilhosa, imagens lindíssimas.

  2. Thanks for your comments, as always, my friend.

  3. Hi Ron,

    those are some very neat pictures. The depicted Epipactis helleborine on top and the flowers in the middle look weird. I have never seen the sepals and petals bent backwards like that on a helleborine. That is pretty cool. Shows just how variable that plant is. The others look pretty standard. Color of the flowers can range from pure green to violet. This pretty normal. I would like to show your post a few colleagues because of the top one.


  4. Hi Martin,

    I didn't realize that the form of some of these flowers was unusual, since I have only seen these plants here and in Michigan, but looking back through some old pictures I did notice that most of the flowers I've photographed over the years do not have that backwards "curl." Thanks for pointing it out, and you are welcome to show the pictures to whomever you please.

  5. I found your blog today while researching fairy orchids. I put a post on my blog ( including one of your pictures and a link to your beautiful blog because we're doing a Fairies' Tea Blog Party and I'm posting about various things with a connection to fairies. We'd love to have you participate if you'd like to. Our blogs are art related but your wild orchids are so lovely. I'm originally from the Pacific NW so this was a special find for me today. Maybe someday I'll get to find one growing in the wild. Thank you for sharing your images.

  6. Hi Lou Anne,

    I've seen your post and links and was charmed. I don't quite know how I would be able to participate, but appreciate the invitation and enjoyed what I saw of your blog. If you are ever out this way in the spring, we'd be happy to show you some Fairy Slippers in the wild. They do grow in California, though, but how far south I am not sure without doing a bit of research. Thanks very much for the link and for the kind comments.

  7. Hi Ron,

    gotta come back to this.
    Sadly not many commented to my quesions. However this special flower form is quite rare. I have not seen it at all and many in my native-orchid-club have neither. No one seems to be keen to learn more about it.

    Anyways. Nice find.


  8. I appreciate your interest, Martin, and being informed that these were unusual. I'll have to bring that to the attention of my fellow club members the next time I see them.