A rhizomatous, mycorrhizal, perennial evergreen herb. In S. England it is a plant of damp woodlands with deep litter, on a variety of soils; elsewhere it occurs in damp places in heaths, plantations, disused railways, on rock ledges and in sand dunes. 0-1130 m (Ben Lawers, Mid Perth).
This species has declined throughout its scattered British range through changes in land use and management. Most losses in the south occurred before 1930. The small, southern woodland populations appear particularly vulnerable, with recent losses as sites have become too dry. It sometimes colonises plantations, where it may be introduced or arrive naturally by wind-blown seed.
Circumpolar Boreal-montane element.
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