Helleborus viridis L.—Green hellebore; winter-aconite
Helleborus niger L.—Christmas rose
FAMILY: Ranunculaceae—the Buttercup Family (see Actaea)
PHENOLOGY: The hellebores are late winter to early spring flowering plants.
DISTRIBUTION: Helleborus viridis is a European species that is established in some areas. Helleborus niger is a durable, cold-hardy, evergreen, ornamental plant cultivated in gardens. Both thrive in partially shaded, moist situations in good soil.
PLANT CHARACTERISTICS: The genus Helleborus is recognized by showy flowers of white, green, or purple; sepals: 5, large, petaloid; petals: none; stamens: numerous, the outer 8-10 modified into staminodes; pistils: usually 3 or 4; style: erect, slender; fruit: a follicle; leaves: alternate, palmately cleft.
POISONOUS PARTS: The entire plant is toxic.
SYMPTOMS: Helleborus poisoning includes vomiting, diarrhea, and nervous system disturbances such as delirium, convulsions, and death due to respiratory collapse.
POISONOUS PRINCIPLES: Cardiac glycosides are responsible for poisonings. Hellebrin is a cardiac stimulant found in these plants.
CONFUSED TAXA: Helleborus niger the evergreen, cold-resistant plant, produces a floral stalk but no true leafy stems. The flowers, usually borne singly on red-spotted peduncles, are white (suffused with pink). Helleborus viridis produces an erect stem with 2-4 drooping green flowers.
SPECIES OF ANIMALS AFFECTED: Both animals and humans are affected by this poisonous plant. When eaten, the hellebores are said to have a "burning taste."
TREATMENT: (11a)(b); (26).