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False Helleborine

Veratrum album

  • Name also: Common White Hellebore, European White Hellebore, White Veratrum
  • Family: Wake Robin Family – Melanthiaceae
    (formerly Bunchflower Family – Melanthiaceae)
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Rootstock short, thick.
  • Height: 60–120 cm (25–50 in.). Stem sturdy, 1.5–2 cm (0.6–0.8 in.) thick, hollow.
  • Flower: Regular (actinomorphic), 15–20 mm (0.6–0.8 in.) wide. Tepals 6 in 2 similar whorls. Tepals lime green, white at tip and edges, elongated elliptic, with toothed margins. Stamens 6. Gynoecium formed of 3 fused carpels. Inflorescence abundantly flowered, a terminal compound raceme.
  • Leaves: Alternate, stalkless. Blade widely elliptic, 10–20 cm (4–8 in.) long, strongly veined, underside hairy.
  • Fruit: 3-parted, 10–15 mm (0.4–0.6 in.) long, sparsely hairy, abundantly seeded capsule.
  • Habitat: Damp meadows, shoreside hedgerows, springs. Also an ornamental.
  • Flowering time: June–August.
  • Endangerment: False helleborine (ssp. lobelianum) is endangered and protected in all of Finland.

False helleborine has only one native habitat in Finland. Despite being so rare the species is not shy in appearance: growing up to a metre or more in height, this special-looking plant is sure to be noticed by passers-by. Its lime green, quite small-flowered inflorescence is not so dazzling, but the plant produces beautiful, impressive leaves. False helleborine is easy to identify, but not however so easy to find. The plant was not included in Finland’s flora until 1971, when the small, marginalized stand, which is still the only one known, was found. It grows in Finland in northern Lapland near Utsjoki, close to the Norwegian border. The area is connected with the plant’s most abundant stand in Ruija on the Kuola Peninsula and in northern Russia, although the closest stand is actually around 60 km away in Norway. Elsewhere in cooler parts of Eurasia, where it grows quite commonly and sometimes abundantly, it has been used to make sneezing powder, but it is so rare in Finland that it must not be collected. False helleborine is extremely poisonous plant.

A lighter-flowered form of the species, white false helleborine (ssp. album) is also grown as an ornamental, and sometimes it could go wild outside the garden. Another escape from the garden that grows in the wild is reddish-brown-flowered black false helleborine (V. nigrum).

Other species from the same family

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