04 Dec 2021

Kildare Wildlife Watch: The shy Marsh Helleborine — a native Irish summer wildflower

With the Irish Peatland Conservation Council

Kildare Wildlife Watch: The shy Marsh Helleborine — a native Irish summer wildflower

Marsh Helleborine. Picture: Nuala Madigan

Marsh helleborine (Cuaichín corraigh as Gaeilge) is now in bloom and you can watch for it in your community until August.

This native wildflower is also an orchid and can be found growing in alkaline areas such as grassland and sand dunes.

I photographed this wildflower on Lullymore West bog during the week, at a site that is suited to orchids due to its alkaline pH and drier water content due to drainage and past peat extraction on the site.

It can grow to a height of 50cm and the flowers are held on top of a reddish stem. The leaves are broad and oval at the base plant but also grow along the stem — however those leaves growing along the stem are narrower in shape.

Landing pad

The flowers are clustered at the top of the stem, are stalked and each plant can bear up to 20 flowers. The petals are white in colour and similar to other orchids. The lower petal is lipped with a frilly edge and is used as a landing pad for pollinators including hoverflies and ants.

The flowers are surrounded by reddish looking petals, but these are the sepals of the flower (the protective leaf-like sheet that protects the flowers when in bud).

These reddish sepals actually look like wings and really add to the attraction of this orchid.

This orchid reproduces by spreading seeds. What is interesting about this orchid is it can also reproduce through rhizomes. This is the ability of a plant to send out new shoots direct from a node located on the root of the plant.

This ability to reproduce both through seed dispersal and through their rhizomes means in areas where marsh helleborine is identified it is unlikely you will find just one of this orchid, but rather a great number.

However saying this it can be difficult to find this wildflower as it easily blends in with surrounding plants and is often walked past.

Can you find marsh helleborine in your community this week?

If you would like help identifying or to learn more about a wildlife species contact me via e-mail

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