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13 November 2014

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You are in: Essex > Nature > Nature Features > The shy orchid

Broadeaf helleborine

The helleborine can be easily overlooked

The shy orchid

The broadleaf helleborine is often overlooked by passers-by, but this shade loving orchid is one of nature's more timid plants.

Whilst most plants relish the goodness the sun's rays provide, there are others that are quite happy living in the shade. One of them is the broadleaf helleborine.

"The key to them is they are semi-parasitic," explains Simon Leatherdale from the Forestry Commission.

"The seed is so incredibly small, it's like dust or flower. Each seed has virtually no energy in it, but just enough to carry its genetic code.

Broadeaf helleborine

The plant can reach a height of 60cm

"This tiny little spark of life - which it needs to lock into another plant keeps it going until it's produced enough leaf to photosynthesise [at which point] as far as I know, it's no longer parasitic."

Similar in appearance to a young sweet corn plant, with its leaves furled around the plant, its fondness for shady areas, such as woodland, means it can often be missed by passers-by.

But, as Simon explains, it has an awful lot to offer to the fabric of our Essex countryside.

"When it's fully grown and in full flower it can be two-feet high and is quite a spectacular thing when you see it," he says. "But you're not likely to see it because your eyes just glaze over it.

"They stand upright in the end, but at the moment, in mid-June, it's hanging over. But when it flowers it has flowers all the way up the stem and you sometimes get a dozen different flowers."

BBC Essex's Renee Hockley-Byam has been to see these wonders of wildlife with Simon Leatherdale from the Forestry Commission. Click on the link below to hear more.

last updated: 07/07/2009 at 15:30
created: 26/06/2009

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