Plant of the Month for October, 2012

H foetidus header
Helleborus foetidus

 (hel-eh-BORE-us FET-i-dus)

General Information:

The Stinking Hellebore! With a name like that, you just have to have one in your garden.

Helleborus foetidusis evergreen all year long and looks great in the shade garden, even in winter, covered in snow. It has palmately divided leaves of a dark blue-green colour that contrast nicely with other big leaved shade plants like hostas. The leaf colour gets darker in winter, and is lighter if given more sun in summer.

h foetidus main

Helleborus foetidus ‘Wester Flisk’; photo by Robert Pavlis

Plants are reported to smell, particularly when they flower, but I have not noticed an unpleasant odour. They are also reported to be poisonous and their sap can irritate the skin. This makes them deer resistant.

Like other caulescent hellebores (ie visible above ground stems) they grow and flower quickly from seed, often blooming in their second year.

H foetidus flowers

Helleborus foetidus ‘Wester Flisk’; photo by Robert Pavlis


In zone 5, the plant is fully hardy, but the flowers are just barely hardy. I suspect the wet springs are more damaging to the flowers than the cold. The buds which form in fall, turn to a black mush most springs here in zone 5. That is really not a big deal since the flowers are not that spectacular. They are small, green and pendent. They do open very early in the spring and are an important food source for bees and other insects at that time of year.

H foetidus flowers

Helleborus foetidus ‘Wester Flisk’; photo by Robert Pavlis

Breeders are working on crossing regular hellebores that have colourful flowers with H. foetidus in order to produce plants that have both coloured flowers and great leaves.

A number of named clones of H. foetidus are available on the market, but several varieties look pretty much look the same. The pictures in this post are from H. foetidus ‘Wester Flisk’, which has redder stems than the species.

Life Cycle: perennial

Height:60cm (24 inch)

Bloom Time: mid to late summer

Natural Range: Europe

Habitat: woodland, scrub, open rocky areas to around 6,000 ft



Light: full sun to full shade; prefers at least some shade

Soil:neutral to alkaline, moist rich soil

Water: drought tolerant once established

USDA Hardiness Zone:zone 5 - 8

Propagation: seed; does not like to be divided

Seedex availability (ORG&HPS annual Seed Exchange): available occasionally


Sow immediately. The viability of these seeds is short or the species propagates best with fresh seed. Stored seed might be coaxed into germination with temperature cycling and patience.
Requires soaking. Place in warm water until seeds swell, usually 24-48 hours. Discard floaters and the water used for soaking. See
Use repeated cycles of 20°C, then 4°C for 3 months each. Germination is very prolonged.
dry storage impairs germination
Robert Pavlis