Sunday, 6 January 2013

Stinking Hellebore

The Stinking Hellebore, Helleborus foetidus, is common in gardens around Byfield and raises a similar problem to that of the Roast Beef Plant Iris foetidissima (blog for 29 November 2012). It was known to Druce (George Claridge Druce: "The Flora of Northamptonshire) who, writing in 1930, described it as "rare"; he knew of no locations for this plant in the west of Northamptonshire even though, being quite a large and robust species, it is not likely to have been overlooked. It is a rather undistinguished plant and seems unlikely to have been deliberately introduced to gardens (although I suppose the evergreen palmate leaves are quite attractive) begging the question: why is it so frequent around Byfield?

Helleborus foetidus in my back garden
 All the Hellebores, including the Christmas Rose, Helleborus niger, have petal-like sepals (sepals which function as petals are sometimes referred to at tepals); those of H. foetidus are yellowish-green usually with a purple edge. They appear early in the the year, often in January, and are visited by bees and other insects; for this reason it is given a guarded welcome in my garden. Unfortunately the plant not only has an unpleasant smell when bruised but is highly poisonous due to the presence of various glycosides. At one time it was prescribed as a violent emetic but its use has long been discontinued; it was also used to treat children with intestinal worms and there is evidence that this was frequently fatal. Legend suggests the Alexander the Great died from hellebore poisoning.


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