Herbaceous Plant of the Week - Stinking Helleborus (Helleborus foetidus)

Published on

Don't let its name scare you away! Helleborus foetidus, commonly referred to as stinking hellebore, is an evergreen perennial that tops out at about 24 inches. Both the flowers and leaves can give off a scent that some may find unpleasant, which leads to its common name. 


The dark green leaves are deeply lobed and provide a unique texture in the garden throughout the year. Although technically considered an evergreen, sometimes the leaves will become scorched or tattered over the winter, and is usually more severe when we lack snow cover to provide some protection. Often gardeners will remove those wintered leaves to give it a fresh look in the spring.


Stinking Helleborus Leaves
Photo Credit: Amy Stone, OSU Extension - Lucas County


The flowers are formed in clusters and hang downward. The pale green bracts often complete the look and together are often described as the plants flower by the casual observer.  


Stinking Helleborus in Flower
Photo Credit: Amy Stone, OSU Extension - Lucas County


The area in the garden where these photos were taken was in a woodland shade garden, underneath the canopy of a grove of pawpaw (Asimina triloba) - a well planned site! The plants have created an evergreen interest, even after the flowers have faded. Plants should have some protection from the sun and drying winds. The plants can naturalize an area very slowly, and can reseed themselves over a period of time. 


There are cultivars of the species available that often note the plants compactedness, a darker green foliage, or differeing shades of bract colors.


There are usually no serious insects or disease problems. Occassionally, crown rot occurs when drainage is an issue, and there is a leaf spot that has been noted.