John and Gerry's    Orchids of Britain and Europe
Home Back to Cephalanthera species Links

Cephalanthera damasonium

C. damasonium  was first described from France in  1768 and the name "damasonium" was first penned by Plinny and refers to an unidentified plant ? Although the common name of this species is the Common White  Helleborine, its flowers are usually of a pale cream colouration.

It is a widespread and relatively common orchid that can be found through most of the temperate regions of Europe and indeed much of Asia. It favours shade or semi shade and although will tolerate mildly acidic soils, it is largely a plant of calcareous substrates and is at its most common both within and on the margins of chalk beechwoods. In Britain it is one of three members of the Cephalanthera genus, the other two being C. rubra and C. longifolia.

C. damasonium can often be mistaken for C. longifolia, although as its name suggests, the latter has much longer, sword like leaves. The two species share similar habitat requirements and where they grow close to one another, hybridization can occur and intermediates are not uncommon. This species is one of the first woodland orchids to colonise suitable new plantations and these colonisers thrive in the open conditions that pertain before the forest canopy closes over. In these situations it is quite possible to find sturdy stands of up to fifteen stems in a single clump. It is equally true that these clumps flourish again when woodland is thinned out and we have seen examples that have persisted quite happily where overhead cover has been removed altogether.

The pictures come from Var, France and Hampshire, UK and date from the last week of May at which time flowering was just starting.