A garden oasis and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River

Plant of the Week: Helleborus foetidus (Stinking Hellebore)

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Horticultural Interpreter. 

Stinking hellebore, despite its unfortunate name, is a very welcome sight in the early spring. Its light-green flowers and their Chartreuse bracts—leaf-like structures that surround them—contrast nicely with the finely cut, darker-green foliage.


In reality, the scent released when the foliage is brushed is not really so unpleasant. Many gardeners think of it as just a strong, “fresh-plant” smell.

Hellebores get their generic name from the Greek helein, meaning destroys or injures, and borus, meaning food, and is an unsubtle reference to the toxins present in all parts of the plant. (Don’t eat it!) The specific epithet foetidus is pretty self-explanatory.


It is native to much of Western and Southern Europe and can be seen at here at Wave Hill in the Wild Garden and along the Shade Border, near Wave Hill House.


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