Stinking hellebore Helleborus foetidus

The cold months of late winter are traditionally the time when our native wild plants lie asleep in the ground. So the sight of this wild flower's bright green flowers popping up through a dusting of snow is often a pleasant surprise.

Is it a garden escapee? Not at all: although populations may have becomer obscured by such varieties, the stinking hellebore is a native through and through.

Some caution should be advised: every part of this wild flower is poisonous and will induce vomiting and delirium if ingested, if not death. In the past it was used as a hazardous remedy for worms. The 18th century naturalist Gilbert White remarked thus upon this "cure": "Where it killed not the patient, it would certainly kill the worms; but the worst of it is, it will sometimes kill both".

Identification

Stinking hellebore is evergreen, its dark green leaves, sprouting from a thick stem. The flowers are green also but a lighter, yellowish shade; drooping cup-like in shape. The five sepals have a distinctive purple fringe.

Distribution

Given the populity of this plant in gardens it is often hard to distinguish the native population from horticultural escapees. 

Habitat

Woodland, walls and roadside verges. It is particularly fond of limestone-based soils.

Best time to see

Stinking hellebore traditionally blooms from February to April.

Did you know?

The name "stinking" hellebore is perhaps undeserved. Certainly sniffing the flowers won't make you want ot hold your nose, although crushing the leaves can produce an odour often described as "beefy".

More early blooming wild flowers: