More on the hellebore

It is March now, and we had a small taste of spring last week when the temperatures reached unbelievable 74ºF. Since then, there was more wind and rain and even snow. The plants are taking it slow. At this time of the year, the stars of our garden are the lentenrose hellebores.

Buds open to show nodding flowers in pink, dark red, purple, greenish white, and cream with beautiful speckles. Those colorful flower parts are actually sepals, not petals. The petals are modified into nectaries, small cup-shape structures arranged in a ring around the base of the flower. Here, a reward for pollinators is produced and stored. The sepals don’t fall off when the flower is pollinated but will stay on the plant, sometimes for months until the seedpods are ripe.

As pretty as a hellebore is, the whole plant is poisonous. Fortunately, it tastes so bad that even hungry animals can’t be tempted. If someone were to consume a lot of it despite that taste, hellebores would cause vomiting and nervous symptoms like tinnitus, stupor and perhaps even depression and death.

As is often the case with poisonous plants, hellebores were used in medicine. In ancient Greece and during medieval times, they were prescribed as a cure for madness. The plants had their role in witchcraft, too, specifically in curses that were meant to cause insanity. Good, that a course of hellebore could have been taken as an antidote.

Antidote or not, who is bewitched by the beauty of the Helleborus flower will be fine. I am sure of it.