The Isle of Wight Helleborine refound

Isle of Wight Helleborine © CP

Isle of Wight Helleborine © CP

(from the Bulletin, February 2006)

The Isle of Wight Helleborine is an enigmatic orchid. It was so called because, when originally found near Ventnor in 1913, it was thought to be a new species. It doesn’t seem to have been seen again until the 1930’s in Bonchurch Landslip and then in 1951 when Dr Laidlaw’s father found a specimen at St Lawrence. By that time, it was recognised that the plant was not unique to the Island, but found in scattered localities in England, Wales and Ireland. It became known as the Green-flowered Helleborine. The plant persisted at St Lawrence until around 1959, but there have been no further confirmed Island records until now.

During a particularly hot spell of weather in August 2003, a visiting botanist, Peter Jupp, found an unusual Helleborine close to the footpath in Eaglehead Copse, a Wildlife Trust reserve. He thought it could be Narrow-lipped Helleborine. The plant lasted a very short time in the heat but I sent photographs to the referee, Professor Richards at Newcastle University. He considered that it could well be a specimen of Green-flowered Helleborine.

It did not reappear in 2004, but in August 2005 Peter Jupp was on holiday here again and he alerted local botanists to the fact that it had reappeared. Again photographs, together with a single pickled floret, were sent to Professor Richards. He was able to confirm that this was indeed Green-flowered Helleborine and was, moreover the same type which was originally found at Ventnor in 1931, now known as Epipactis phyllanthes var. vectensis.

So, after an absence of 44 years, the Isle of Wight Helleborine has reappeared on the Island. It is a plant which has a habit of appearing and then disappearing, only to reappear years later somewhere else, so we must enjoy this special Island plant whilst we can.

Colin Pope

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