Wild Flowers of Pittsburgh

Orchidaceae

Helleborine (Epipactis helleborine)

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A spike of fascinating little orchid flowers, with broad pointed leaves alternate on the stem. The distinctive flowers have lips that look like little slippers filled with chocolate sauce. The color of the flowers is quite variable, according to botanical references; they may be yellowish, or green, or purple.  The species probably came from Europe, apparently as a medicinal herb, and by the middle 1800s had established itself on our continent.

The species is quite uncommon around here, though it seems there are a few places in North America where it can be an annoying weed. (UPDATE: Having written this, we discovered the very next day that one of those places is Schenley Farms, where Helleborine grows abundantly on otherwise neatly kept shady front banks.) This plant grew in the woods in Frick Park, where it was blooming in early July.

Gray calls the genus by an alternate name, Serapias:

SERÀPIAS L. Flowers in a loose or somewhat dense bracteose raceme. Sepals ovate-lanceolate, strongly keeled. Petals shorter, ovate, acute. Lip strongly saccate at base, the apical part broadly cordate, acute, with a raised scallus in the middle and two inconspicuous nipple-like protuberances on each side near the point of anion with the sac. Column broad at the top, the basal part narrower; anther sessile, behind the broad truncate stigma on a slender-jointed base; pollen farinaceous, becoming attached to the gland capping the small rounded beak of the stigma. — Stem leafy. (Named for the Egyptian deity Serapis.) Epipactis of auth., not Boehm.

S. helleborine L. Plants 25-60 cm. high; leaves clasping the stem, conspicuously nerved, broadly ovate to lanceolate, acute; perianth about 8 mm. long, green suffused with madder-purple; lip similarly colored, but darker within, the apical portion as if jointed with the sac, bituberculate at base. (Epipactis helleborine Crantz; E. latifolia All.; E. viridiflora Reichenb.) — Rare and local, Que. and Ont. to Mass., N. T., and Pa. —Probably introduced from Europe in early times on account of supposed medicinal value. July-Aug. (Eu.)

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