This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
No seeds of the Green Hellebore have been found in a fossil condition. It is a plant of the Warm Temperate Zone of W. and Central Europe, ranging from Holland southwards, but is not found in Russia. It has been introduced into the United States of America. It is found in South England, in S. and N. Somerset, Dorset, Hants, Sussex, East Kent, Surrey, Essex, Herts, Bucks, Carnarvon, Flint, Gloucs, W. Lancs, York, Durham, Northumberland, and Westmorland. Elsewhere it is regarded as only introduced. It is often naturalized. Watson calls it a denizen.
The Bear's Foot or Green Hellebore is a woodland plant, being fond of copses of hazel, and other types of thicket in the south and east of England, chiefly on chalk soil, which it prefers. It is largely a xerophile, though it may be found on humus within the chalk areas. Its associates are the Wood Spurge, Herb Paris, Melic Grass, amongst common plants. Doubtless its reputed use (vide below) has been responsible for its introduction in other southern, eastern, or midland districts.
Except that the stem is purple and usually single, or divided into two nearly to the base, this plant has much the habit of Marsh Marigold. It stands erect, and with spreading divisions of the leaves, which spring from a foot-stalk directly, and with the sheathing bases of its stalkless stem-leaves it looks palm-like when not in flower.
The leaves are hard and leathery, finger-shaped or nearly stalkless, and with lobes radiating from the centre on the stem.
The calyx is spreading, and the 5 green sepals are oblong, longer than the 8-10 petals, which are tubular and bilobed, and are shorter than the stamens, which are numerous, curved, and veined one side. The leaves also have prominent veins below. The honey-glands are half as long as the stamens. The few fruits are 1-celled fruits with many seeds, with an erect style.
The plant grows to a height of 2 ft. It flowers from March to April and is perennial and deciduous.
The stigma is ripe first. The petals are minute but secrete honey. The 3-4 yellowish - green flowers open widely, and there is abundant honey, but the inconspicuous character of the flower causes it to be less visited than would be expected. Owing to the pendulous nature of the flower it is protected from the rain and from some classes of insects. The styles turn outwards and then are just beneath the nectar-bearing petals. Afterwards they turn upwards. By this time the anthers are ripe and take their place. The flower is visited by bees and humble bees.
Hellebore is aided in dispersal by the wind. The follicle which opens above contains many seeds, which are blown out of the ripe fruit by the wind.
A fungus, Phyllosticta helleborella, is parasitic upon this plant, and on the Continent Phytomyza Hellebori attacks it.
The generic name is the Latinized form of the Greek name, while viridis is the Latin for green.
The English names for this plant are: Bear's-foot, Boar's Foot,
Photo. Messrs. Flatters & Garnett - Green Hellebore (helleborus Viridis, L.)
Fellon-grass, Green Hellebore, Bastard Hellebore, Peg-roots, Setter-wort.
It was said to guard the home from ill, and to be a powerful antidote against madness. Burton, in his Anatomy of Melancholy, says:
" 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. To clear the brain of misty fogs, Which dull one's senses and soul clogs, The best medicine that e'er God made For this malady, if well assay'd."
Floors were strewn with it formerly, but instead of being beneficial it only introduced evil odours into the house. The plant has been used as a cure for worms since Hippocrates' time (fourth century). It was retained in the British Pharmacopoeia up till 1851, but is now discarded. It was used in the same way as Black Hellebore, but in any form is very dangerous.
Essential Specific Characters: 12. Helleborus viridis, L. - Stem few-flowered, leaves digitate or pedate, veins below prominent, cauline leaves sessile, sepals petaloid, spreading, yellowish-green, petals small, shorter than the stamens, tubular.