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Are helleborine orchids epiparasitic upon ectomycorrhizal associations? - COMPLETED 2006

This project tested the hypothesis that symbiotic germination in the genera Cephalanthera and Epipactis is dependent upon colonisation by ectomycorrhizal rather than Rhizoctonia-type fungi and that the symbionts of these helleborine orchids are co-associated with neighbouring woody autotrophs. Seeds of selected species were buried in recoverable packets at locations adjacent to and at distance from putative co-hosts of these fungi enabling chronological analysis of germination and seedling development. Symbionts were identified by molecular methods and isolated for use in mycorrhizal syntheses with co-hosts, where possible. Elucidation of the germination requirements contributed to conservation strategies for nationally rare species.

This project was funded for three years from 2004-2006, with Prof. David Read (University of Sheffield) as Principal Investigator, and collaboration with Peter Carey (CEH Monks Wood) and Kew. The outcomes were published in paper in Molecular Ecology.


  • Bidartondo, M.I. & Read, D.J. (2008) Fungal specificity bottlenecks during orchid germinaiton and development. Molecular Ecology 17: 3707-3716.

Project partners and collaborators

University of Bayreuth
CEH Monks Wood
University of Sheffield

Project funders


Natural Environment Research Council

Project Department