AMERICAN WHITE HELLEBORE INDIAN POKE ITCHWEED
(Veratrum viride) Bunch-flower family
Flowers - Dingy, pale yellowish or whitish green, growing greener
with age, 1 in. or less across, very numerous, in
stiff-branching, spike-like, dense-flowered panicles. Perianth of
6 oblong segments; 6 short curved stamens; 3 styles. Stem: Stout,
leafy, 2 to
8 ft. tall. Leaves: Plaited, lower ones broadly oval,
pointed, 6 to 12 in. long; parallel ribbed, sheathing the stem
where they clasp it; upper leaves gradually narrowing; those
among flowers small.
Preferred Habitat - Swamps, wet woods, low meadows.
Flowering Season - May-July.
Distribution - British Possessions from ocean to ocean; southward
in the United States to Georgia, Tennessee, and Minnesota.
"Borage and hellebore fill two scenes -
Sovereign plants to purge the veins
Of melancholy, and cheer the heart
Of those black fumes which make it smart."
Such are the antidotes for madness prescribed by Burton in his
"Anatomie of Melancholy." But like most medicines, so the
homeopaths have taught us, the plant that heals may also poison;
and the coarse, thick rootstock of this hellebore sometimes does
deadly work. The shining plaited leaves, put forth so early in
the spring they are especially tempting to grazing cattle on that
account, are too well known by most animals, however, to be
touched by them - precisely the end desired, of course, by the
hellebore, nightshade, aconite, cyclamen, Jamestown weed, and a
host of others that resort, for protection, to the low trick of
mixing poisonous chemicals with their cellular juices. Pliny told
how the horses, oxen, and swine of his day were killed by eating
the foliage of the black hellebore. Flies, which visit the dirty,
yellowish-green flowers in abundance, must cross-fertilize them,
as the anthers mature before the stigmas are ready to receive
pollen. Apparently the visitors suffer no ill effects from the
nectar. We nave just seen how the green arrow-arum bores a hole
in the mud and plants its own seeds in autumn. The hellebore uses
its auger in the spring, when we find the stout, shining, solid
tool above ground with the early skunk-cabbage.
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