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Helleborus foetidus

Helleborus foetidus

As late winter turns to early spring many of the hellebores emerge from their winter slumber to produce fresh flowers heralding the new gardening year.

Helleborus foetidus is easy to grow and useful for difficult places in the garden as it tolerates dry shade and survives under the canopies of trees, where it will gradually naturalise and self-seed.

It bears dark green leaves and above these, bold heads of bell-shaped, lime green flowers for many weeks through late winter and into early spring. At RHS Garden Hyde Hall this plant is utilised in many borders around the Hilltop Garden and Queen Mother's Garden, particularly under the large tree canopies of oak and pine.

Vital statistics

Common name
Stinking hellebore
Height & spread
Up to 80cm (32in) x 45cm (18in)
Moist, fertile and humus-rich
Prefers partial shade
Fully hardy to frost hardy


This genus contains 15 species of perennials from central, eastern and southern Europe and western Asia, in scrub, woodland, grassy and rocky areas, usually on chalk or limestone soils.

Most hellebores produce rhizomes (underground stems) and can be either clump-forming or shrubby.

The leaves are leathery, usually toothed and light to dark green. Flowers are white, cream, pink, purple or green and sometimes spotted, with many creamy-yellow stamens in the centre of each flower.

All hellebores flower between winter and mid-spring and are most effective grown in groups in a shrub border or woodland garden.

In the 17th and 18th centuries H. niger was widely used to treat a variety of complaints including mania, epilepsy, skin infections and worms. However, today hellebores are regarded as poisonous plants which will cause severe discomfort if ingested, and irritation if sap comes in contact with the skin.

Helleborus foetidus

This is one of Britain’s native hellebores which is also found in much of Europe. It grows up to 75cm (2.5ft) with a spread of 1.2m (4ft).
The leaves are dark green; the pale green, bell-shaped flowers are about 2cm (0.75in) across. The flowers often have purple margins and are sometimes pleasantly scented.

H. foetidus is an evergreen perennial to 60cm. Nodding, usually purple-edged, pale green flowers to 2cm in width are borne in large open clusters from late winter.


  • Tolerates a range of fertile, moist, humus-rich soils but prefers neutral to alkaline soil in dappled shade
  • Remove faded or damaged foliage as the flowers appear
  • Provide shelter from cold winds
  • Mulch annually in spring
  • Hellebore aphid and snails may be a problem
  • May be subject to hellebore leaf spot and hellebore black death


  • Sow seed in containers in a cold frame as soon as ripe. Plants come true from seed provided they are isolated from other forms. Poorly coloured plants are best discarded.


The RHS Herbaceous Plant Committee awarded Helleborus foetidus an Award of Garden Merit and described it as:

'Evergreen perennial to 60cm with erect stems and leaves palmately divided into several narrow dark green leaflets. Nodding, purple-edged, pale green flowers to 2.5cm wide are borne in large open clusters.'

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