How to Grow False Hellebore

Produces Prolific and Verdant Greenery - But Be Aware of Its Toxicity

Mature false hellebore plants

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False hellebore is a bright green plant that grows tall, with lush green foliage and cream or yellow flower panicles during the summer. This plant is part of the lily family, but picked up the name ‘false hellebore’ because its toxicity is a quality it shares in common with Eurasian hellebore.

While you wouldn’t want to plant false hellebore anywhere that animals might graze upon it or children might come in close contact with it, it can be a good choice if you want prolific and verdant greenery. These plants grow to a height of up to 6 feet and send up shoots of tiny, star-like flowers in yellow, green, or white.

Even when not in bloom, the broad, oval-shaped leaves are visually appealing. Basal leaves can be 12 inches wide, while leaves further up the stem span three to six inches. 

Botanical Name Veratrum viride
Common Name False hellebore, corn lily, itchweed
Plant Type Herbaceous perennial
Mature Size 2 to 6 feet tall
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type Rich, well-draining
Soil pH Acidic to alkaline
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color White, yellow, green
Hardiness Zones 3 to 8
Native Area United States and Canada
Leaves of the false hellebore plant
Leaves of the false hellebore plant  MakiEni / Getty Images
Flowers of the false hellebore plant
Flowers of the false hellebore plant Federica Grassi / Getty Images

How to Grow False Hellebore

To successfully grow false hellebore doesn’t take much in the way of skill or precision. These plants are adaptable to partial shade or full sun and will grow well in a variety of soil types, as long as it is well-draining. What is essential for the growth of false hellebore plants, however, is regular watering. These plants thrive in damp, wet soil so it's important not to let the soil dry out.

A mature false hellebore plant is subject to spreading, thanks to its rhizome root system and seed vessels. If you want to prevent the spread of this plant in your garden or landscape, it’s recommended that you collect the seed vessels rather than letting them fall to the ground after the blooming season. These plants die back in the winter but will return ready to go with the arrival of spring. 

Light

False hellebore is most frequently found in partial shade, but this plant won’t object to full sun conditions. It’s a prolific grower that can accommodate three to six hours or more of sunlight. 

Soil

The best soil for false hellebore plants is well-draining. Other than that, these plants are adaptable to clay, loam, or sandy soil conditions—though their lush vegetation and flowering are best supported with rich, humusy soil. These plants are adaptable to varying levels of soil pH and grow in alkaline, neutral, and acidic soil. 

Water

Often found next to rivers, streams, or creeks, false hellebore loves water. They grow best in very damp, even wet, soil. So plan to provide plenty of irrigation if you want to see these bright green plants thrive. You can also help them to retain more water by layering mulch around them in the spring. 

Temperature and Humidity

False hellebore exhibits hardiness across a range of climates, turning up in areas as diverse as Alaska and Georgia.

These moisture-dependent plants do fine in wet, humid environments. It's worth noting, however, that they are more often found in the meadows and mountains of the western and eastern United States, versus the plains or southern regions. 

Its hardy to USDA zone 3 and will return each spring, despite the subzero temperatures of these regions. 

Fertilizer

If provided with adequate water and sufficient sunlight, it’s unlikely that you’ll need to fertilize false hellebore. These plants usually draw more fire for prolific spreading rather than under-producing.

Propagating False Hellebore

Often it seems that more people are concerned with removing false hellebore rather than propagating it, since this plant has a tendency to spread abundantly, thanks in part to rhizome reproduction.

You can propagate false hellebore by rhizomes, seed, or division. You should use care when handling this plant due to its toxicity, which can cause skin irritation. It’s recommended that you always wear gloves when working with false hellebore.

To propagate this plant by rhizome, you’ll need to dig up a portion of the underground root that has developed both nodes (for sprouting roots) and buds (for sprouting shoots). These rhizomes can then be transplanted into a new location.

Don’t plant them too deeply or the buds may not be able to reach the surface. An inch or two below the soil surface is usually sufficient.

Propagation by seed follows typical methods. Collect the seed vessels which appear late in the blooming season. The small, flat brown seeds will need plenty of moisture during the seeding process.

Be sure to plant them in a sunny location for the best chances at sprouting seedlings.

Take note that false hellebore plants propagated by seed may not flower for several years. 

Varieties of False Hellebore

There are two similar but distinct varieties of false hellebore. The difference primarily relates to where each variety grows, though subtle differences in the plant’s growth are also detectable.

  • Veratrum viride var. viride: Grows primarily in the eastern half of North America, from as far north as Newfoundland in Canada to southern regions of the United States like South Carolina and Georgia. The flower stem of this variety typically grows erect and doesn’t’ have a tendency to droop.
  • Veratrum viride var. eschscholzianum: This variety is dominant in western regions, and is found from Alaska, British Columbia, and into westerns states like Washington, Idaho, and California. It differs slightly in appearance from Veratrum viride var. viride by exhibiting flower stems that tend to have a spreading or even droopy growth pattern.

Toxicity of False Hellebore

All parts of the plant are toxic, including the roots, leaves, and flowers. This typically poses the largest problem for grazing animals, like cows and horses, which may ingest this plant. Symptoms might include:

  • foaming at the mouth
  • irregular gait
  • accelerated heartbeat
  • birth defects
  • coma

This plant is also toxic to companion animals, like dogs. Humans, while less likely to ingest false hellebore, should be able to readily identify this plant and minimize handling it. It can cause skin irritation if you come into contact with it, and more severe symptoms if ingested—including nausea, vomiting, slowed heartbeat, and even death.