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Epipactis leptochila

E. leptochila was first described from Surrey, England by Godfrey in 1919 and its name refers to the narrow lip (epichile) of the species. The plants common name is appropriately the Slender or Narrow Lipped Helleborine.

This is a species of variable appearance and one which professional and amateur botanists alike have spent many hours studying. This is particularly the case in the Chiltern hills of England where some colonies exhibit detail differences from type. It would seem hybridization is the most probable verdict and crosses with both E. helleborine and E. purpurata have been recorded. 

The range of E. leptochila covers much of temperate Europe from England, Germany and Denmark, down to Northern Spain and across to the Balkans and Hungary. It is a rare orchid everywhere but  perhaps at its most frequent in England where it inhabits shady sites amongst leaf litter in beech woods. The Chilterns represent its stronghold but it has been recorded from most counties in the southern half of England.

It often grows with both E. purpurata and E. helleborine but can be readily distinguished from these species by virtue of the overall light green colouration of the perianth, but most importantly by the dark red hypochile floor and the long, heart shaped, forward pointing epichile. In deep shade E. helleborine can become etiolated and these, more slender, pale specimens can present identification problems. Distinguishing the two should however be straightforward as the leaves of E. helleborine are arranged in a spiral, are broader and more numerous than those of E. leptochila.     

The following photographs depict examples of E. leptochila from a colony of atypical plants near Princess Risborough, Buckinghamshire in southern England. It has been suggested these may represent the little known British variety cordata. They may however be hybrids with one of the co-occurring Epipactis species.