Sometimes, you need a poison plant for your lapel.
As with a lot of poisonous flowers, most people don’t know how to recognize it out and about. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present helleborous niger, black hellebore, hellebore, Christmas rose, winter rose or nisewort. Known as one of the four classical poisons (hellebore, nightshade, hemlock, and aconite) this winter flowering shade perennial is a prime example of beauty disguising danger. Low growing, this plant produces dark green foliage with 5-petaled blossoms in shades of pale green, white, pink, red and maroon (other cultivated species include flowers of black, brown, spotted and combinations of white with red tips and the like). Blooming in winter or early spring, all parts of the plant are poisonous. With irritation of the skin from contact with the sap to symptoms of vomiting, dizziness, nervous system depression, and convulsions from ingestion, the history of this plant is varied.
In Greek mythology, the seer Melampus used hellebore to cure King Proetus’s daughters of madness. Pliny the Elder gave specific instructions on harvesting the black roots of this flower for medicine or malintent. It’s theorized that Alexander the Great died after being given a medicinal dose of hellebore, while the First Sacred War (595-585BCE) was believed to have been won after the Greek military alliance poisoned the water supply of Kirrha with hellebore.
A key ingredient in classic flying ointments, it’s associated with Mars and Saturn with correspondences to water. Used in spells of banishment, exorcisms, protection and invisibility, it was also used to change the nature or other plants. Grafted onto other plants, or used as a fertilizer for fruit trees to make them unpleasant or unhealthy.
Look for helleborous niger, or helleborous officiales if you’re buying seeds. White hellebore or false hellebore looks the same, but is not the classic witch’s flower.
Happy planting everyone