Native. Perennial. Propagates by seeds and by thick, fleshy rootstocks. Time of bloom: May to July. Seed-time: June to August. Range: From Quebec to British Columbia and Alaska, southward to Georgia and Tennessee. Habitat: Wet meadows, swamps, and along streams and ditches.
A large, coarse, and dangerously poisonous plant. Cattle and horses have been killed by cropping the young leaves in the spring; the seeds are fatal to poultry, and even human life has been lost through the mistaking of its root for that of some other harmless plant. This fleshy rootstock, however, is medicinally valuable, and when collected after the leaves have died in autumn, carefully cleansed, and dried, it is worth five to ten cents a pound in the drug market. (Fig. 42.)
Leaves appear first in the spring, often as early as March, thrusting up through the wet and sometimes frozen soil like large spearheads; they are at first of a delicate light green color, strongly lengthwise veined and plaited like a fan. When fully unfolded the outer and lower leaves are usually more than a foot long and half as wide, broadly elliptic in shape, pointed at both ends, with sheathing clasp at base; those ascending the stem become successively smaller as they approach the top. Stalk stout, round, grooved, two to six feet tall, without branches except in the large panicle at its summit; stalk, foliage, and panicle are all hairy. Flowers in a dense slenderly pyramidal cluster, six inches to nearly two feet long, the pedicels shorter than the bracts at their bases. The blossoms are about a half-inch broad, pale yellowish green, turning brown as they wither, with six spreading, oblong sepals, united at the base and minutely toothed and fringed at the edge; stamens six, shorter than the perianth; styles three, persistent. Staminate, pistillate, and perfect flowers may all be found on the same stalk, but usually the lowermost blossoms are sterile. Capsules nearly an inch long, ovoid, three-Iobed, three-celled, and containing many large, flat, broadly winged brown seeds which easily sail on the wind or float on water.
Fig. 42. - American Hellebore (Vera-trum viride). X 1/8.
For infested meadows, drainage and cultivation is the best remedy. In places where that is impracticable, the rootstocks should be grubbed out - and perhaps sold for sufficient to pay for the labor of extraction. Seeding should in every case be prevented by close cutting while in first bloom.