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Stinking Hellebore

Helleborus foetidus

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Ranunculaceae (Buttercup)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
60 centimetres tall
Gardens, scrub, woodland.

Green, 5 petals
The nodding, yellowish-green flowers are clustered together. They are bell-shaped and the 5 sepals are purple-edged. The flower reaches a maximum of 3cm across.
A dry fruit (follicle) containing up to 20, glossy, black seeds.
An evergreen perennial. Dark green, glossy, deeply divided leaves. The leaves are divided in to 7 to 10 linear lobes.
Despite the name of this plant, some people like the smell of it. It only smells after the leaves have been crushed. The smell can be described as 'beefy'.
Other Names:
Barfoot, Bear's Foot, Bear's Foot Hellebore, Dungwort, Setterwort.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Other Information


Helleborus foetidus, commonly known as "Stinking hellebore" or "Dungwort", is a species of herbaceous perennial plant that is native to Europe and Asia. It typically grows to be about 60 centimeters tall, with large, palmate leaves that can reach up to 50 centimeters in diameter. It has small, greenish-white or yellow flowers that bloom in the late winter or early spring, before the leaves appear. The plant has an unpleasant smell, hence the common name.

Helleborus foetidus is often used as an ornamental plant in gardens and landscaping, it can be planted in partial shade, and prefers well-drained, humus-rich soils. It is tolerant of cold temperatures, it is hardy and can tolerate temperatures down to -20°C. It is also used in traditional medicine for the treatment of various diseases such as fever, cold, and headache. The plant is toxic and should be handled with care.


Helleborus foetidus, commonly known as Stinking Hellebore or Bear's Foot, is a plant species in the family Ranunculaceae. It is a herbaceous perennial plant that is native to Southern and Western Europe. It grows in shady areas such as woodland floors, and its distinctive appearance and odor make it a unique addition to any garden.

Appearance and Characteristics

Stinking Hellebore grows up to 60 cm in height and spreads up to 45 cm wide. The plant features evergreen, leathery, dark green leaves that grow up to 30 cm in length. The leaves are deeply divided into numerous, narrowly lanceolate segments that give it the appearance of a bear's foot, hence the common name.

The plant produces small clusters of greenish-white flowers in late winter and early spring. The flowers grow on long stalks and feature five petal-like sepals that are up to 2.5 cm in length. The flowers are pollinated by bees and other insects and produce small green fruits that turn brown when mature.

One of the most distinctive characteristics of the Stinking Hellebore is its unpleasant odor. When the plant is crushed or bruised, it produces a pungent, musky scent that is similar to that of a wet dog or rotten meat. This odor acts as a defense mechanism against herbivores and prevents animals from eating the plant.

Cultivation and Uses

Stinking Hellebore is a hardy plant that can tolerate cold temperatures and partial shade. It prefers moist, well-drained soils and thrives in woodland gardens or shaded borders. It can be propagated by seeds or division of the clumps in the fall.

Although the plant is toxic to humans and animals when ingested, it has been used for medicinal purposes in traditional herbal medicine. The plant contains several alkaloids, including hellebrin and helleborine, which have cardiac and diuretic properties. However, due to its toxicity, Stinking Hellebore should only be used under the guidance of a qualified herbalist.

In addition to its medicinal uses, Stinking Hellebore has ornamental value and can be used to add interest and texture to a shady garden. Its evergreen leaves provide year-round interest, and its unique appearance and odor make it a conversation starter.

More Information about Stinking Hellebore

Stinking Hellebore has a rich history of folklore and mythology. In ancient times, it was believed to possess magical properties and was used to ward off evil spirits and to protect against witchcraft. In Greek mythology, Helleborus was said to have been created by the god Apollo to cure madness. The plant was also used by the ancient Greeks and Romans to treat a variety of ailments, including gout, paralysis, and fever.

In addition to its medicinal and ornamental uses, Stinking Hellebore is also an important plant for wildlife. Its flowers provide an early source of nectar for bees and other insects, and its seeds are a food source for birds.

Despite its toxicity, Stinking Hellebore is a relatively low-maintenance plant that requires minimal care. It is resistant to most pests and diseases and does not require fertilization or pruning. However, it is important to handle the plant with care and to wear gloves when working with it, as the sap can cause skin irritation and other allergic reactions.

Stinking Hellebore is a plant that can be used in a variety of ways in the garden. Here are some ideas:

  1. Shade garden: Stinking Hellebore is a perfect addition to a shady garden. Its evergreen foliage provides year-round interest, and its flowers add a splash of color in late winter and early spring.

  2. Container planting: Stinking Hellebore can be grown in containers and placed on a patio or balcony. This is a great option for gardeners with limited space or who want to create a mobile garden.

  3. Naturalized planting: Stinking Hellebore can be planted in naturalized areas, such as woodlands, where it can spread and create a natural-looking landscape.

  4. Companion planting: Stinking Hellebore can be used as a companion plant to other shade-loving species, such as ferns and hostas. This creates a cohesive planting scheme that is both attractive and functional.

  5. Cut flowers: While the odor of Stinking Hellebore may not be pleasant, the plant's flowers can be cut and used in flower arrangements. They add a unique and interesting touch to floral displays.

In addition to these uses, Stinking Hellebore can also be used as a ground cover or as a focal point in a garden bed. Its unique appearance and hardiness make it a versatile plant that can be used in a variety of ways. With its interesting history, ecological importance, and ornamental value, Stinking Hellebore is a plant that is sure to be appreciated by gardeners and nature lovers alike.

Stinking Hellebore is also a great plant for attracting wildlife to the garden. The plant's flowers provide an early source of nectar for bees, which are important pollinators. In addition, the plant's seeds are a food source for birds, such as finches and sparrows. This makes Stinking Hellebore an excellent choice for gardeners who want to create a wildlife-friendly garden.

Another interesting feature of Stinking Hellebore is that it is an evergreen plant, which means that it retains its leaves throughout the year. This can be particularly useful in the winter, when many other plants have lost their leaves. The plant's dark green foliage provides a welcome contrast to the dreary winter landscape, and its unique appearance adds interest to the garden.

Finally, it is worth noting that Stinking Hellebore is a plant that has been used for centuries in traditional medicine. While the plant is toxic and should not be consumed without the guidance of a qualified herbalist, it is interesting to note the plant's historical uses. It is said to have been used to treat a variety of ailments, including fever, paralysis, and gout.

In conclusion, Stinking Hellebore is a fascinating plant that has many interesting features. From its evergreen foliage to its early-blooming flowers, the plant has a lot to offer gardeners. Its unique appearance and history make it a plant that is sure to be appreciated by those who are interested in botany, history, and traditional medicine. Whether you are looking to create a wildlife-friendly garden, a natural-looking landscape, or simply want to add a touch of interest to your garden bed, Stinking Hellebore is a plant that is definitely worth considering.


Stinking Hellebore filmed in Rivington, Lancashire on the 5th March 2023.


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