Veratrum viride Ait.—False hellebore
FAMILY: Liliaceae—The Lily Family (see Amianthium)
PHENOLOGY: False hellebore flowers June to July.
DISTRIBUTION: This plant grows in swamps, low wet places, meadows, pastures, and open woods.
PLANT CHARACTERISTICS: Veratrum viride is a coarse, tall, unbranched herb, 3 to 6 feet, perennial from a short rhizome; leaves: large (appearing pleated), alternate in 3-ranks, broad, the bases sheathing the stems; panicle: terminal, composed of greenish-yellow to purple, hairy flowers, about 1.5 cm across; tepals: 6, narrowed at base, not glandular; stamens: 6, filaments free from the perianth; ovarv: tri-lobed, each lobe terminating in a short style; fruit: an ovoid capsule, surrounded by the withered perianth; seeds: large, flat, the embryo small and surrounded by a broad wing. See Amianthium for illustration.
POISONOUS PARTS: All parts are poisonous, especially the young, succulent growth in spring.
SYMPTOMS: Species vary in physiologically active principles, yet symptoms of acute poisoning are constant: salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pains, prostration, depressed heart action, general paralysis, spasms, and dyspnea. Death may result. In addition, hallucinations, headache, and a burning sensation of mouth and throat have been reported. A species of Veratrum from western United States is known to cause congenital malformation in lambs, including cyclopia (single median eye) and cranial and lower jaw abnormalities. Ewe embryos in the primitive streak stage (12th and 14th day of gestation) develop deformities; fetal pituitary may be absent, Postmortem: gross and histological lesions: not reported in acute toxicity.
POISONOUS PRINCIPLES: The numerous known alkaloids exist as glyco - or ester alkaloids and include jervine, pseudojervine, rubijervine, cevadine, germitrine, germidine, veratralbine, and veratroidine. Plants also may contain cardiac glycosides.
CONFUSED TAXA: The plant is readily recognized, although the name can be confused with true hellebore (see Helleborus) in the Ranunculaceae.
SPECIES OF ANIMALS AFFECTED: Humans and all classes of livestock, especially cattle, sheep, and fowl.
TREATMENT: (11a)(b); (1); (5); (12)
OF INTEREST: For two centuries, until the 1900's Veratrum viride was used widely in medicine and as an insecticide. It is now the source of a class of antihypertensive agents that affect the afferent side of the sympathetic nervous system. Rootstock extracts used in homeopathy should be used cautiously since this plant contains teratogens, substances causing fetal deformations. Most accounts of false hellebore poisoning have from been medicinal misuse. It is used in veterinary medicine as a circulatory depressant. stomachic, emetic, and parasiticide.