Helleborus foetidus (NL: Stinkend nieskruid / EN: Stinking hellebore, Dungwort, Bear's foot) is a herbaceous perennial plant growing to 80 cm tall and 100 cm across, with a thick succulent stem and evergreen glossy leaves. Flowering is in spring, usually on lime-rich soils. The drooping cup-shaped flowers (the image is taken from ground level pointing upwards) are yellowish-green, often with a purple edge to the five petal-like sepals on strongly upright stems. The flowers, typically for the family, contain numerous stamens as well as up to ten nectaries which make them attractive to bees and other insects. Each flower produces usually three wrinkled follicles (can be seen in the image in the center of the flower). Despite its common name, it is not noticeably malodorous, although the foliage is pungent when crushed.
Yeast colonise the nectaries of stinking hellebore and their presence has been found to raise the temperature of the flower, which may aid in attracting pollinators to the flower by increasing the evaporation of volatile organic compounds. It was the first species in which this effect was discovered. As a result the flowers are used by many insects as a shelter on cold nights or bad weather-days as you can see in this image ...
All parts of the plant are poisonous, containing glycosides. Symptoms of intoxication include violent vomiting and delirium.
Image: Rochefort (BE) - 27/03/2011
© Johan Dierckx
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