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.