There’s something about the subtler flowers which has a strange draw for me – after seeing these beautiful emerald green flowers pop up at the beginning of the year on the #wildflowerhour feed, I knew I had to track them down.
Green hellebore – latin name Helleborus viridis – is a native species of hellebore found in the UK and widely across central and western Europe. It is a relative of the garden varieties which might be more familiar as late winter/early spring flowers in an ornamental setting. Hellebores are actually a member of the buttercup family – the arrangement of petals and sepals as well as the shape and structure of the leaves gives this away on more careful scrutiny.
It is generally found in shady habitats such as woodland glades or hedgerow banks, often preferring limestone or chalk. Populations are said to be relatively stable, often maintaining their size and distribution over many years with little apparent change. The distribution of this species in the UK is generally confined to the south, although individual populations do occur in the north.
I was down in the Mendips in late February and in leiu of a known site, I had a google around and found reference to green hellebore in the Woodland Trust site – Dolebury Warren. It was listed as part of the management plan for one of the compartments but without a map, this could be anywhere in the woodland! Not to be deterred, I headed off on an 8-mile round trip which took me across the exposed limestone grasslands and down into the woods through evergreen plantations, gnarled horse chestnuts and ruins reclaimed by the forest. Finally I found what I was hoping for – gathered at the base of the woods where the trees meet the fields.
Flowering time is early in the year – generally February and into March – making it one of the earliest flowering spring species. Plants grow to around 60cm high and often form stands thanks to their rhizomatous roots.
Historically, this species was used to treat worms, but such are its toxic properties that inappropriate administration posed a significant risk of harming the patient as much as the parasite! All parts of the plant are poisonous leading to severe vomiting and seizures.