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Veratrum californicum - Durand.

Common Name California False Hellebore
Family Melanthiaceae
USDA hardiness 4-8
Known Hazards All parts of the plant are highly poisonous[155, 200]. The flowers are poisonous to insects, including bees[155].
Habitats Swamps, creek bottoms, moist woodlands and meadows, from lowland to the sub-alpine zone[60].
Range South-western N. America - Washington to California, west to Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming.
Edibility Rating    (0 of 5)
Other Uses    (0 of 5)
Weed Potential Yes
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Veratrum californicum California False Hellebore


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Veratrum californicum California False Hellebore
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Summary


Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Veratrum californicum is a PERENNIAL growing to 2.5 m (8ft) by 0.6 m (2ft in).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 5. It is in flower from August to September. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Bees, flies, Lepidoptera (Moths & Butterflies).
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

Synonyms

Habitats

Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade; Shady Edge;

Edible Uses

None known

Medicinal Uses



Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Analgesic;  Contraceptive;  Disinfectant;  Febrifuge;  Poultice;  Salve.

Although a very poisonous plant, California false hellebore was often employed medicinally by a number of native North American Indian tribes who used it mainly as an external application to treat wounds etc[257]. It also had quite a reputation as a contraceptive[257]. It is little, if at all, used in modern herbalism. Any use of this plant, especially internal use, should be carried out with great care and preferably only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. The root is analgesic, disinfectant and febrifuge[257]. A decoction has been used in the treatment of venereal disease[257]. The roots have been grated then chewed and the juice swallowed as a treatment for colds[257]. A poultice of the mashed raw root has been used as a treatment for rheumatism, boils, sores, cuts, swellings and burns[257]. The dried and ground up root has been used as a dressing on bruises and sores[257]. A poultice of the chewed root has been applied to rattlesnake bites to draw out the poison[257]. The powdered root has been rubbed on the face to allay the pain of toothache[257]. A decoction of the root has been taken orally by both men and women as a contraceptive[61, 257]. A dose of one teaspoon of this decoction three times a day for three weeks is said to ensure permanent sterility in women[207, 254].

Other Uses

Disinfectant;  Insecticide.

The dried and powdered root is used as an insecticide and a parasiticide[172]. It is also effective against caterpillars and mammals so great caution is advised[1, 19, 20].

Cultivation details

Requires a deep fertile moisture retentive humus-rich soil[200]. Succeeds in full sun if the soil does not dry out but prefers a position in semi-shade[200]. Dislikes dry soils[42]. Grows best in a cool woodland garden or a north facing border[42]. Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer[233]. Plants are long-lived and can be left in the same position for years without attention[233].

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Propagation

Unless stored in damp sand at around 4°c the seed has a short viability[200]. Where possible it is best to sow the seed in a lightly shaded position in the greenhouse as soon as it is ripe[200]. Stored seed needs to be stratified but can be very slow to germinate. Germination can be erratic even for seed sown when it was fresh, it usually takes place within 3 - 12 months at 15°c but can be much longer[200]. The plant produces just one seedleaf in its first year, this forms an over-wintering bulb. It takes up to 10 years for the plant to reach maturity[200]. Sow the seed thinly so there is no need to thin or transplant them, and grow the seedlings on undisturbed in the pot for their first two years of growth. Apply a liquid feed at intervals through the growing season to ensure the plants do not become nutrient deficient. At the end of the second year plant out the dormant plants into individual pots and grow them on in light shade in the greenhouse for a further year or two before planting them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer. Division in March/April or in October. Establish the plants in pots in a shaded frame before planting them out[200]. Division is best carried out in the autumn because the plants come into growth very early in the spring[233]. Root cuttings, 6mm long with a bud, rooted in a sandy soil in a cold frame[200].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameEdibility RatingMedicinal Rating
Veratrum albumWhite Hellebore, White false hellebore02
Veratrum maackii parviflorum 11
Veratrum nigrumBlack Hellebore01
Veratrum virideIndian Poke, American Hellebore12

 

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Expert comment

Author

Durand.

Botanical References

60200270

Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here

Readers comment

Rick Marin   Tue Nov 16 06:25:10 2004

We may be able to help you get rid of it (Veratrum californicum) for free. Contact me on hotmail at lifebound. Rick Marin

Merche   Tue Jan 13 2009

I would like to know where can I buy this plant in Spain or Europe. Thanks.

Fernandez   Mon Sep 7 2009

World of Science Promising treatment against skin cancer - Veratrum californicum helps to treat skin cancer

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