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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Friday 17th February 2012

I ventured out into the garden just to see what’s going on rather than to do any serious gardening. I really should set aside a few hours to start tidying things up for spring but all I did was to have a potter around and take a look at how the hellebores are doing.

There’s quite a bit of folklore associated with plants from the Helleborus genus but what struck me today was the absence of one piece of folklore you might expect to be associated with these early flowering plants.

Aside from the Helleborus foetidus, stinking hellebore, whose unique structure makes identification easy, I can’t put full names to any of my plants as they are all hybrids whose names I forgot to write down when I bought them.

The thing that strikes about the hellebores as these photos show is that the flowers point downwards.

Helleborus foetidus, stinking hellebore 


Helleborus hybrid, hellebore


Helleborus hybrid, hellebore


Helleborus hybrid, hellebore

I don’t know whether this structure is the evolutionary result of flowering in the depths of winter so that the flowers need to protect themselves and the creatures that pollinate them from the worst of the weather.

But, with something like the Fritillaria, the drooping flowers are said to be the result of the plant growing under the cross at Calvary and hanging its head in shame at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Fritillaria mealagris, snake’s head fritillary

The flower of Fritillaria mealagris, snake’s head fritillary, hang its head in sorrow after witnessing the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

I suppose it could be a matter of timing. The Fritillaria flowers in the early spring coinciding, in northern Europe, with Easter whereas the hellebores are past their best before that time.

The flowers of the hellebores are very pretty, at least for plants that are better cared for than my own, so it is a shame that it is hard to appreciate that beauty without crawling around on the ground.