Orthilia secunda

Tracheophyta MagnoliopsidaPyrolaceaeOrthiliaOrthilia secunda


A rhizomatous, mycorrhizal, evergreen perennial herb, of damp Calluna and Vaccinium-dominated communities, mostly in Pinus and Betula woodland but also on open moorland. It also grows in clefts and on ledges in rocky gullies, and on rocky stream banks. Flowering is often erratic. From 30 Kirkhill, Easterness) to 690 m (Craig an Dail, S. Aberdeen).



World Distribution

Circumpolar Boreal-montane element.

Broad Habitats

Light (Ellenberg): 5

Moisture (Ellenberg): 5

Reaction (Ellenberg): 5

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 3

Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 1.4

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 12.2

Annual Precipitation (mm): 1568

Height (cm): 5

Perennation - primary


Life Form - primary




Clonality - primary

Rhizome shortly creeping

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 228

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 7

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0

Atlas Change Index: -0.4

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Orthilia secunda (L.) House

Serrated wintergreen

Status: not scarce


This is a northern and sub-montane plant, rare and relict south of the Scottish Highlands. In its more southerly localities O. secunda usually grows in narrow crevices of steep, broken and dry rocks, but often in rather humid ravines and gullies. In the Highlands it also frequently grows amongst moss under tall Calluna vulgaris and in Vaccinium heath on the mossy floor of both pine and birch woods. Substrates are usually acidic to only mildly basic, but in Glen Doll it grows on Dalradian limestone. Its attitudinal range is from 90 metres on the Culbin Sands to 690 metres at Craig an Dail Bheag; there is an unlocalised record from 730 metres in Ross-shire.

This is a perennial plant and its evergreen habit makes it most conspicuous in winter and early spring. It is seldom abundant even in northern localities, and some of the southern stations have only a few plants. Flowering is erratic or sparse in some southern outposts, and there is little evidence that O. secunda spreads by seed under present conditions, Regeneration under Calluna vulgaris after fire may be by seed or vegetatively.

Its absence from much heather moorland suggests that fire has greatly restricted its range. Grazing has probably also curtailed its present distribution. It is, however, probably still present in most of the 10 km squares from which only pre-1970 records are available. 

Matthews (1955) classifies this species in his continental northern element. It is a characteristic plant of the boreal forests, occurring widely in northern Europe but also in the mountains of the south, and in North America.


D. A. Ratcliffe

Atlas text references

Atlas (197c)
Curtis TGF, McGough HN
1988.  The Irish Red Data Book. 1. Vascular Plants.
Hultén E, Fries M
1986.  Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols.
Meusel H, Jäger E, Rauschert S, Weinert E
1978.  Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 2. 2 vols.
Stewart A, Pearman DA, Preston CD
1994.  Scarce plants in Britain.