Monday, March 02, 2009

Hellebores In The Snow

They're now blanketed under several inches of snow, but I took these picture of my hellebores yesterday, before the snow began in earnest. Landscape Guy and I transplanted them a few feet this Fall, and I wasn't sure if they would bloom this year, especially given the dry, cold Winter we've had. The deep purple ones don't have buds, but the white ones have big, fat buds that I expect will open by this weekend.

Wiki says: Commonly known as Hellebores, members of the genus Helleborus comprise approximately 20 species (ongoing fieldwork may see this figure change) of herbaceous perennial flowering plants in the family Ranunculaceae, within which it gave its name to the tribe of Helleboreae. Many species are poisonous. . . . In the early days of medicine, two kinds of hellebore were recognized: black hellebore, which included various species of Helleborus, and white hellebore, now known as Veratrum album ("false hellebore"), which belongs to a different plant family, the Melanthiaceae. Although the former plant is highly toxic, containing veratrine and the teratogens cyclopamine and jervine, it is believed to be the "hellebore" used by Hippocrates as a purgative. . . .
"Black hellebore" was used by the ancients in paralysis, gout and other diseases, more particularly in insanity. "Black hellebore" is also toxic, causing tinnitus, vertigo, stupor, thirst, a feeling of suffocation, swelling of the tongue and throat, emesis and catharsis, bradycardia (slowing of the pulse), and finally collapse and death from cardiac arrest. . . . However, although Helleborus niger (black hellebore or Christmas rose) contains protoanemonin, or ranunculin, which has an acrid taste and can cause burning of the eyes, mouth and throat, oral ulceration, gastroenteritis and hematemesis, research in the 1970s showed that its roots do not contain the cardiotoxic compounds helleborin, hellebrin and helleborein responsible for the lethal reputation of "black hellebore". . . . Several legends surround the hellebore; in witchcraft it is believed to have ties to summoning demons. . . . During the Siege of Kirrha in 585 BC, hellebore was reportedly used by the Greek besiegers to poison the city's water supply. The defenders were subsequently so weakened by diarrhea that they were unable to defend the city from assault. Some historians believe that Alexander the Great died because of a hellebore overdose, when he took it as medication.

It's a lovely, poisonous, little plant and it blooms even before the crocus.

1 comment:

clymela said...

Oh!! please show us pictures of the blooms.