There aren’t many western-native orchids that adapt themselves well to the garden, but Giant Helleborine (Epipactus gigantea) is perhaps the easiest and one of the showiest. Especially this variety, ‘Serpentine Night.’ Granted, the flowers aren’t the humongous tropical kind, but the purplish-black foliage that comes with the plant makes it well worth planting.
This variety of epipactus is from a parent population of E. gigantea f. rubrifolia that Roger Raiche found in ‘The Cedars’ in California in Sonoma County. (An informative write-up about this unique botanic and geological treasure is in the April 2009 issue of Fremontia, the journal for the California Native Plant Society.) There also seems to be something of a story behind this plant’s discovery. The Cistus catalog had this tantalizing tidbit when they had it still in stock (which they don’t anymore, sorry): ”Parker’s dramatic 150 ft. fall led to this plant…and a helicopter ride to the emergency room.” ?!?!
This orchid likes wet soils, so putting it next to a pond or under a birdbath would work. It would probably perform best as a pond marginal, as the constantly moist soil would allow the stalks to grow to 2 feet or more. I have mine at the bottom of a downspout in an irrigated area and it does fine. I’ve seen local populations growing near stream banks in limestone scree, so I bet this little orchid can take some drying out and still come back, but as with most plants, they appreciate some pampering and will reward you for it.
In this case, the reward has come from the orchid reseeding about 15 feet away in a bed of solid mint. There is a broken sprinkler head in there and low and behold, the orchid likes the mint jungle. This little seedling hasn’t retained the purple leaves of its parent, but I’m not going to start to complain if orchids start growing from seed in my garden.