Flower of the Month - Marsh Helleborine
The Marsh Helleborine (Epipactis palustris) is a perennial herbaceous member of the orchid family of plants. It is native to Europe, parts of the Middle East, Siberia and Central Asia. In Ireland it can be found growing in fens and marshes, lake shores, damp pastures and wet dunes. Growing up to 60 cm in height with erect leaves of 12 cm in length and red and white tinged flowers, once noticed it is unmistakable and found throughout the course. Each flower contains both male and female organs of reproduction and produce nectar that are pollinated by bees’ wasps and ants but they can also multiply by their horizontal roots called rhizomes.
Orchids rely on a symbiotic relationship with soil fungi, which gives them access to more soil nutrients. This symbiotic relationship between plants and fungi is called mycorrhizae and it has been instrumental in the evolutionary process of plants colonising the land. A common mechanism is when a plant provides sugar formed from photosynthesis to fungi in exchange for water, nutrition, and protection against other pathogenic fungi species. Recent research has demonstrated that several orchid species have close relationships with fungi, which make a significant contribution to their nutrition. Marsh Helleborine is specialised compared to other orchid species in that it acquires 30% of its nitrogen from its partnering fungi although it does not appear to exchange it for sugars. The part played by the plant is still unknown.
Although it is a relatively rare plant throughout most of Ireland, partly due to drainage of wetland habitats and forestry projects, it is found throughout Bull Island which it has been suggested may be home to the largest population in Ireland. In recent years, many new colonies have formed within the grounds of Royal Dublin and are likely to grow in years to come.