False hellebore is native to the eastern and western areas of the US and Canada.
It has a penchant for moist meadows and open forests.
A name as colorful as false hellebore deserves a little research. Turns out false hellebore is so
named because it looks like real hellebore, which in turn is a member of the
Helleborus species. And Helleborus derives from the Greek name for H. orientalis, ἑλλέβορος (helléboros), from elein ”to injure,” and βορά (borá), ”food.” (In botany, “false”
means “easily confused with a similar, previously named plant.”)
Identification: This is a rather handsome looking species,
making a rather prominent impression in wooded habitats. Plants are 28-79" (70-200 cm) in height,
with large leaves 4-14" (10-35 cm) × 1¾-8" (5-20 cm) spirally arranged around a straight stem.
Leaves are elliptic to broadly lanceolate, with conspicuous parallel ribs
and hairy undersides. Flowers are arranged in a conical shape atop the plant, 12-28" (30-70 cm)
tall; individual flowers are star-shaped, hairy, ⅛-⅜" (5-12 mm) long, and green, with six green or yellow green tepals. It flowers from July to August. Fruits are a small capsule.
Edibility: Poisonous. Any part of this plant, especially the roots,
induces nausea and vomiting, followed by drops in respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure,
often leading to death. It is poisonous to animals as well as people. If eaten, the result is burning of the mouth and throat,
salivation, headache, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, sweating, and convulsions.
Medical: In the 1950s and 60s, standardized preparations
derived from false hellebore were used to bring overly fast heart rates and high blood pressure
down. The practice was later discontinued.