White Helleborine

The Beautiful White Helleborine (Cephalanthera damasonium)

The first picture (top left) shows where it occurs on Bepton Down SSSI Access Land.  The Beech tree in the background is the clue as it prefers Fagus sylvatica woodland.  It loves the lightly shaded, dry, lime-rich soils associated with coppiced beech and mature beech woods but must have ground with a sparse ground flora.  It also likes north-facing slopes.

It is an increasingly rare sight due to the clearance of woodland which has gathered pace since 1930 and the now widespread plantations of conifers which are considered to be a fast growing cash crop.

It is to be found on the North and South Downs as well as the Chilterns, Devon, Somerset and south-east Wales.  It is absent from Scotland and Ireland.

It flowers from May until the end of June on stems up to 60cm high and can have up to 16 flowers.  It is perennial and the stem emerges from a short rhizome.  The leaves can be up to 10cm long with strong parallel veins and are dull or grey-green.  It is largely self-pollinating but cross-pollination will be effected by insects attracted to the bright yellow colouring of the labellum.  It is slow to develop and may require up to ten years to reach the flowering stage from seed.  Occasionally it will increase through the production of underground root buds.

On this site it is restricted to just the patch of relatively dry, well-drained chalk, underneath the solitary beech tree.  Under 20 specimens have been recorded and these need to be afforded protection.