Helleborus foetidus 'Sienna'
Common Name: stinking hellebore
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Ranunculaceae
Zone: 5 to 9
Height: 1.00 to 2.00 feet
Spread: 1.00 to 1.50 feet
Bloom Time: February to April
Bloom Description: Greenish white
Sun: Part shade to full shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Flower: Showy
Leaf: Colorful, Fragrant, Evergreen
Tolerate: Deer

Culture

Easily grown in organically rich, humusy, alkaline, medium moisture, well-drained soils in part shade to full shade. Prefers light to moderate shade. Locate plants in areas protected from cold winter winds. May self-seed in optimum growing conditions once established in the garden. May not be reliably winter hardy throughout USDA Zone 5. Cut back flowering stems after bloom to promote new foliage growth. This is an evergreen plant that takes two years to bloom when grown from seed.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Helleborus foetidus, commonly called stinking hellebore, is an evergreen perennial that typically grows to 24” tall and is noted for its deeply divided dark green foliage and late winter to early spring bloom (February – April). Leaves are deeply lobed and divided into 7-10, narrow, lance-shaped to elliptic, usually-toothed segments. Clusters (cymes) of drooping, bell-shaped, greenish-white flowers (to 1” diameter) subtended by pale green bracts bloom at the tips of leafy stems commencing in February. Flowers and bruised foliage are unpleasantly aromatic (foeditus meaning fetid), thus giving rise to a number of somewhat hyperbolic common names for the species including stinking hellebore, stinkwort and dungwort. Many gardeners consider the actual aroma to be more unpleasant or unusual than fetid. Leaf shape gives rise to an additional common name of bear’s foot. Leaves, stems and roots are poisonous. Although foliage is evergreen, it may become scorched and tattered in extremely harsh winters, particularly if not insulated by snow cover.

Genus name comes from the Greek words bora meaning food and helein meaning injures/destroys in reference to the plant’s toxic leaves, stems and roots which are poisonous to humans if ingested.

Specific epithet of foeditus means fetid.

'Sienna' is a somewhat bushy, clump-forming cultivar which typically grows to 24" tall and is most noted for its dark, deeply-cut, greenish-black foliage and its late winter flowers.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. Crown rot and leaf spot are occasional problems.

Garden Uses

Flowers that bloom in February in St. Louis are true harbingers of spring. Locate plants near a kitchen window, patio or walkway so that the early bloom may be enjoyed to the fullest. Group in shady locations under trees, large shrubs or in woodland gardens. May also be incorporated into a naturalized area where the clumps will slowly spread through self-seeding. Mass for an attractive year round ground cover.