LILY FAMILY - Liliaceae: American White Hellebore; Indian Poke; Itch-weed
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.
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 homoeopaths 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. But the flies which cross-fertilize this plant seem to be uninjured by its nectar.