The Helleborine Orchid and the Museum
The Helleborine Orchid (Epipactis helleborine) is presently very common in Western New York State, showing up as a weed in people's gardens, vacant lots, and along paths in wooded areas. It is our only introduced orchid, having arrived here from Europe and first collected near Syracuse, New York, in 1879. In fact, David Day in 1883 recorded the second known site (Bulletin of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences Vol. 4, No. 4, page 264):
"Near Scajauquady's Creek, Buffalo: - The second known station of the species on the American continent. Here first found my Miss Edna M. Porter, July, 1882. Equivalent, according to Gray, to E. latifolia. . . . In our station certainly indigenous. About 200 individuals were counted, all growing within the space of a few hundred feet along a northerly hillside, from five to thirty feet above the creek. The diversity of color, which the flowers on different plants display, indicates that the variety, viridens, has no stability of character."
According to Zenkert, in his 1934 Flora of the Niagara Frontier Region (still available from our Museum shop):
"Rather common. Rich, moist woods, wooded hillsides, thickets, public parks, city streets, extending its range and becoming increasingly abundant. Apparently indifferent to the chemical composition of the soil, it grows in the humus of rich woods, along shaly ravines, on limestone, in clayey loam, and even in sand dunes. . . . The generally accepted opinion today is that the species was probably introduced somehow both at Syracuse and in Buffalo."
The Helleborine Orchid has for years been known to grow in the weedy area behind the fence alongside the Kensington Expressway near the Buffalo Museum of Science, and it has now favored us with its appearance beneath the English Oak (Quercus robur) that was planted a few years ago just north of the Museum's entranceway. It is in flower in July alongside a few Hosta Lilies. Anyone can examine closely the several plants partly concealed under the boughs of the oak. Orchids are especially interesting because their flowers are generally strongly adapted to pollination by insects, and because their very tiny seeds are released in the thousands. The seeds have little stored food, and must germinate almost immediately, but the myriad seeds saturate environmental niches and any appropriate spot is colonized.
If you are reading this and the season for flowering is past, there is a superb model of a flowering Helleborine Orchid in the Marchand Hall of Wildflowers.