Herefordshire Helleborines

Broad leaved helleborine

I have been hunting fruitlessly for helleborines in Herefordshire. I searched for Violet helleborine near Eastnor Castle – not there. I searched for it at Ashburton by the old moat – not there. I searched for it in the grounds of Croft Castle – I didn’t find it. There is an old record for Violet helleborine in the little wood close to my house, but I’ve never seen it there either.

Ledbury Naturalists had a day out on the Doward last weekend. The Doward is a large limestone outcrop in the south of Herefordshire and it is a botanical hotspot. There is a place in the wood below King Arthurs Cave, where you suddenly emerge onto a rock ledge with Bloody cranesbill and Small scabious at your feet and the curve of the Wye at Symonds Yat stretched out below. The steep wooded valley sides are one of the most untouched, natural and wild places left in England.

Yellow birds-nest

We found a host of Broad leaved helleborines (Epipactis helleborine), most of them gathered around the entrance to the Leeping Stocks Wildlife Trust reserve. We found several brown and dessicated spikes of Birdsnest orchid (Neottia nidus-avis). We also found several patches and spikes of Yellow birds-nest which is another chlorophyll-free saprophytic/parasitic plant but not in the orchid family. I didn’t realise until I looked it up, it’s a close relation of Bilberry.

There are also White helleborines (Cephalanthera damasonium)in these woods, finished flowering now of course and I didn’t get a chance to go and see them in May when they were at their best. But we found one remaining spike and it had a single plump seed pod to supply the next generation.

White helleborine