An Unwanted Orchid

by Nancy Rose

August 3, 2017

An Unwanted Orchid

Orchids have the reputation of being the most desirable of plants, so it’s hard to imagine one that you wouldn’t want growing in your garden. But such is the case with Epipactis helleborine, commonly known as helleborine or broad-leaved helleborine. This terrestrial orchid is native to Eurasia but has been in North America since at least 1879 when it was recorded for the first time near Syracuse, New York. It’s range has spread to cover much of eastern Canada and the United States as well as West Coast states and British Columbia. It’s unknown whether the species was purposely imported or if plants or seeds arrived accidentally with other shipments.

helleborine in flower

Helleborine produces terminal racemes of flowers in late summer. Photographed in Michigan by Rob Routledge, Sault College,

Helleborine grows from a large tangle of fibrous roots, sending up one or more 10- to 40-inch-tall stems. It blooms in late summer (July/August), producing a terminal raceme holding 15 to 30 (or more) small flowers, clearly recognizable as orchids, each subtended by a small green bract. Flower color is variable but typically is greenish white to yellow, often flushed with pink, and with reddish brown markings. The fruit is an oval capsule stuffed with hundreds of minute seeds.

helleborine flowers in Maine

Helleborine has become widespread in New England. This specimen was photographed in Maine by Harlan B. Herbert,

Unlike most of our native terrestrial orchids, helleborine is quite adaptable to a range of sites and soil conditions. Unfortunately this has allowed it to become invasive in many natural areas. It has been found in several places at the Arboretum, including the Beech (Fagus) Collection. Helleborine is reportedly difficult to kill with standard herbicides such as glyphosate. Like similarly enthusiastic spreading weeds such as quackgrass (Elymus repens) and Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum)[pdf], helleborine readily grows new plants from any fragment of roots left in the soil; if manually removing plants, be thorough when digging out the root mass.

5 thoughts on “An Unwanted Orchid

  1. It pops up here and there around my garden, then withers and dies. I think it’s affected by a fungus. I don’t believe it’s that invasive, because I have only occasionally seen it around and never in large amounts.

  2. Holy cow. And it IS invasive. I live in south central PA. This plant is tough. It’ll grow anywhere. Under shrubs, in rocks, in awful soil beneath my back porch steps, in shade and sun. I thought it was pretty then read about it and dug it up. I didn’t get all the roots so have had to keep after it yearly. It has seeded itself all over and in my neighbors yard too.

    I have cut off the tops before it flowers cause I didn’t want to dig in my neighbors’ yard. I know it won’t get rid of it but at lease it won’t blow the seeds around.

  3. I am on the plains of Colorado, would love to have it here. I doubt it would take hold though, conditions are harsh.

  4. I am overwhelmed! I live in East Patchogue, New York on Long Island’s South Shore. Last year I had full treatment lawn service including topsoil in the lawn areas and mulch in all the flower beds.
    The Epipactis Helleborine Orchid started popping up all over my 1 acre plus yard. They were identified by the Suffolk County Environmental agency.
    What a nightmare! Nothing can kill them or stop the spread. Every morning new ones popping up all over the lawn in the flower beds under trees. The only thing that comes close to killing the tops is Roundup full concentrate.
    That also kills everything around the Orchid.
    Digging them out is not possible, because there are huge amounts of them. Each has fleshy roots or rhizomes that allow several stems to develop from the same rootstock. If you dig out and leave any part of the rootstock new orchids will grow and multiply.
    I have to believe the contamination was from seeds in the landscapers soil or mulch. What to do?
    This invasive plant is affecting our property values and our ability to sell the property upon retirement. During this time of critical covid-19 problems it is taking an additional huge toll on our personal time, physical and mental health.
    Can anybody help? Sincerely, Marshall Didier (631) 806-7032

  5. So sorry to hear of your immense difficulties with this tenacious plant! As your question lies outside of our expertise, we recommend you send your query to a cooperative extension service. Here is a link for Cornell’s Extension in Suffolk County NY:

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