TIIMBERHILL TOUR: False hellebore, Veratrum woodii

False hellebore, Veratrum woodii

In early May, 1993, I was walking down the east savanna trail with Dr. Lois Tiffany.  We were on our way to harvest the morels that fruit under the silver maple, elm and hackberry along Brush Creek.  As an aside I asked her if she could identify the very conspicuous basal rosettes of broad plaited leaves that were so abundant on the rich wooded slope west of the trail.  She replied that is was definitely a member of the lily family but didn’t know the species.  I had never seen the plant bloom until later that summer when some of the specimens produced 3-6 foot tall panicles of small burgundy colored flowers.  I sent Deb Lewis a photograph which she identified as False hellebore, Veratrum woodii.

Deb also sent me a copy of the description of V. woodii in Julian Steyermark’s Flora of Missouri.  According to Steyermark, “Flowering appears to be very irregular, some seasons passing without any flowering taking place. At various localities where flowering was observed, only a small percentage of the plants bore flowering stalks.  On other occasions a greater percentage of plants had flowers.” (Steyermark: 423) Of the two plants that Steyermark transplanted to his wildflower garden one flowered twice in 11 years, the other only once.

I found more information about this very conservative plant (Iowa COC is 10) on the Illinois wildflower web site which describes V. woodii as “restricted to high quality deciduous woodlands where the original flora is still intact.”  John E. Ebinger in his paper, “False Hellebore Populations in Illinois”, notes that this species is known from only 8 states, and is “apparently not abundant anywhere.” His 1992 survey of Illinois Veratrum populations found no flowering specimens during that summer or fall.  A previous (1985) Illinois survey had located 4 individuals with flower stalks.

False hellebore flower

At Timberhill there are several populations of V. woodii in the east savanna.  The largest is found on  the hillsides  and terraces above the ravine between the first and second ridge.  I have also seen this plant at Nine Eagles State Park southeast of Davis City.   Flowering is not a problem this year as over 50 of our plants have flower stalks.   But deer predation is.  The small herd of does that live in the east savanna will consume all the flowering panicles they find.  Hopefully they’ll leave some for Bill and me to enjoy.

Ebinger, John E. 1993. “False Hellebore (Veratrum woodii, Liliaceae) Populations in Illinois.” Transactions of the Illinois State Academy of Science 86, 3 and 4: 89-91.

Illinois Wildflowers

Steyermark, Julian A. 1996. Flora of Missouri. Ames: Iowa State University Press.