Epipactis leptochila

Tracheophyta MagnoliopsidaOrchidaceaeEpipactisEpipactis leptochila


A rhizomatous perennial herb found in three distinct habitats: the deep shade of Fagus woods on calcareous substrates; under Betula on well-drained stony soils and spoil, often polluted with lead and zinc; and on the edges of dune-slacks where it grows amongst Salix repens and can spread into neighbouring conifer plantations. Lowland.



World Distribution

European Temperate element.

Broad Habitats

Broadleaved, mixed and yew woodland

Light (Ellenberg): 3

Moisture (Ellenberg): 4

Reaction (Ellenberg): 9

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 4


Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 3.6

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 15.7

Annual Precipitation (mm): 808

Life form information

Height (cm): 60

Perennation - primary


Life Form - primary

Non-bulbous geophyte (rhizome, corm or tuber)



Clonality - primary

Little or no vegetative spread

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 86

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0

Atlas Change Index: 0.26

Distribution information

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Epipactis leptochila (Godfery) Godfery

Narrow-lipped helleborine

Status: scarce



In Britain it is found in three very distinct lowland habitats: in the south, on decomposed litter in woods, especially beechwoods, on calcareous substrates in deep shade with a very sparse ground cover; inland in the north under birch on well-drained stony substrates kept open through such diverse influences as the presence of lead and zinc tailings (Richards & Swan 1976), old aerodrome runways, and coal spoil; and on the edges of dune-slacks and the stabilised sides of sandhills, usually growing amongst Salix repens

This plant is a long-lived perennial which takes at least four years to flower from seed and then appears above ground irregularly. It is self-fertile, and automatically self-pollinating. However, the flowers are sometimes visited by wasps and cross-pollination of the disintegrating pollinia can occur (Richards 1986). Each capsule forms 1000-2000 tiny windblown seeds which develop by mycorrhizal association.

The apparent size of colonies varies dramatically from year to year, but dormant (subterranean) population sizes may be more stable and much greater, as can sometimes be demonstrated by the rapid reappearance of E. leptochila following scrub clearance, bight levels appear to be critical. It is intolerant of direct sunlight in the south, but in the north it fails to flower and then disappears from temporarily disturbed sites as shade increases with seral development. Dune populations are very sensitive to levels of grazing: large rabbit populations bite off all the flowering stems, but if rabbit populations are too low, the plants cannot compete with the surrounding vegetation.

On the continent, the E. leptochila complex is distributed from Belgium and central France through the Alps to Hungary and northern Greece. It is doubtful whether E. muelleri, E. albensis, E. bugacensis, E. olympica or E. danubialis are specifically distinct.

British dune populations, previously known as E. dunensis, have a short recurved epichile, but are identical to some plants occurring inland in northern England in populations where other individuals closely resemble southern E. leptochila with longer straight epichiles. Some southern beechwood populations, previously known as E. cleistogama and E. leptochila var. cordata, are very similar to E. dunensis, as are French populations of E. muelleri. All these taxa, with a short recurved epichile, are best treated as E. leptochila var. dunensis.



A. J. Richards

PLANTATT - Attributes of British and Irish plants. (.zip 1455KB) This dataset was compiled and published in 2004, and last updated in November 2008. Download includes an Excel spreadsheet of the attributes, and a PDF explaining the background and nomenclature. Note that the PDF version is the booklet as published, whereas the Excel spreadsheet incorporates subsequent corrections. A hardcopy can be purchased from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

Atlas text references

Atlas (333a)
Allan B, Woods P
1993.  Wild orchids of Scotland.
Hultén E, Fries M
1986.  Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols.
Jenkinson MN
1991.  Wild orchids of Dorset.
Stewart A, Pearman DA, Preston CD
1994.  Scarce plants in Britain.