Stinking Hellebore Helleborus foetidus

☠ Toxic to humans
🐾 Toxic to pets
🌸 Blooming
🍪 Not edible
‍🌱 Easy-care
stinking hellebore


The plant commonly known as the stinking hellebore or bearsfoot is characterized by its leathery, dark green foliage which forms a clustering rosette. Each leaf is divided into narrow, segmented fingers, giving it a palmate appearance reminiscent of a hand with splayed fingers. Transitioning into the flowering season, it produces clusters of bell-shaped flowers at the top of the stems. The blossoms range in color from green to greenish-white, sometimes with a hint of purple at the tips or edges. The flowers have a distinctive appearance with a cup-like shape and dangling stamens that protrude noticeably, giving the blooms an exotic look. When brushed or crushed, the plant emits an unmistakable, pungent odor, which is how it earned its common name. The overall aesthetic of the stinking hellebore is one of rustic charm, with its evergreen presence and nodding late winter or early spring flowers that are able to endure and often peek through the last of the season's snow.

Plant Info
Common Problems

About this plant

  • memoNames

    • Family


    • Synonyms

      Stinking Hellebore, Bear's Foot, Setterwort, Dungwort

    • Common names

      Helleborus foetidus L., Helleborus viridis var. foetidus.

  • skullToxicity

    • To humans

      Stinking hellebore is toxic if ingested and can cause symptoms such as drooling, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. In severe cases, it can lead to colic, slow heart rate (bradycardia), and muscle weakness or spasms. Touching the plant may also cause skin irritation in some people.

    • To pets

      Stinking hellebore is also poisonous to pets and can induce similar symptoms as in humans, including drooling, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. Severe poisoning can result in depression, weakness, and in some cases, seizures or cardiac irregularities. Contact with the skin may lead to irritation or dermatitis.

  • infoCharacteristics

    • Life cycle


    • Foliage type


    • Color of leaves


    • Flower color


    • Height

      2 feet (0.61 meters)

    • Spread

      1.5 feet (0.46 meters)

    • Plant type


    • Hardiness zones


    • Native area



  • money-bagGeneral Benefits

    • Ornamental Value: Helleborus foetidus, commonly known as the stinking hellebore, is appreciated for its evergreen foliage and attractive green flowers, which add color to winter gardens.
    • Drought Resistance: Once established, the stinking hellebore is quite tolerant of drought conditions, making it suitable for drier gardens or areas with water restrictions.
    • Shade Tolerance: This plant is adept at thriving in shaded areas where other plants might struggle to grow, making it a good choice for woodland gardens.
    • Deer and Rabbit Resistant: Helleborus foetidus is resistant to browsing by deer and rabbits, making it a practical choice in areas where these animals are present.
    • Low Maintenance: The stinking hellebore requires minimal care once established, making it a good option for gardeners seeking low-maintenance landscaping plants.
    • Pest Resistant: It is relatively resistant to pests, reducing the need for chemical treatments in the garden.
    • Winter Interest: With its late winter to early spring blooms, Helleborus foetidus provides visual interest during a time when few other plants are flowering.
    • Long Blooming Period: The flowers of the stinking hellebore can last for a considerable period, often from late winter into spring, providing a prolonged period of bloom.

  • medicalMedical Properties

    • Cardiac effects: Helleborus foetidus has been historically used to treat heart conditions due to its possible influence on cardiac function.
    • Diuretic properties: The plant has been used in the past as a diuretic to increase urine production and relieve fluid retention.
    • Anthelmintic action: There is historical use of Helleborus foetidus for expelling intestinal worms.
    • Narcotic effects: The plant has been described as having narcotic properties, although such usage is highly risky and not medically recommended due to its toxicity.
    Please note that Helleborus foetidus is mostly recognized for its toxicity, and the use of this plant for medicinal purposes is generally considered unsafe. It contains compounds that can be highly toxic to humans and animals, and it is not recommended for any medical use without the guidance of a qualified professional.

  • windAir-purifying Qualities

    This plant is not specifically known for air purifying qualities.

  • leavesOther Uses

    • Helleborus foetidus, commonly known as Stinking Hellebore, can be used as an ornamental plant in winter gardens due to its evergreen nature and ability to bloom in cold weather.
    • The Stinking Hellebore's seed pods can be used in dried flower arrangements for their unique visual interest after the plant has finished blooming.
    • This plant is sometimes used as a companion plant in gardens to deter deer and other wildlife that may be deterred by its strong, unpleasant odor.
    • The naturally occurring compounds within Stinking Hellebore can be used as a biological pest control agent, specifically against certain types of nematodes.
    • Stinking Hellebore has been traditionally used in the past as a green dye for fabrics providing a moderate coloring effect.
    • With its distinctive, slightly serrated leaves, Stinking Hellebore can add textural contrast in shade gardens or woodland garden designs.
    • The Stinking Hellebore's unique flowers can be floated in water features or bird baths to add an unexpected decorative element during the blooming season.
    • Photographers and artists may use Stinking Hellebore as a subject for its unique beauty and the challenge it presents because of its subtle colors.
    • The plant can play a role in education, as it serves as an example of how natural defenses evolve in plants to protect against herbivory because of its toxicity and strong scent.
    • Stinking Hellebore is sometimes incorporated into wildlife gardens designed to provide natural habitats, as it supports early season pollinators with its nectar.

Interesting Facts

  • bedFeng Shui

    The plant Stinking Hellebore is not used in Feng Shui practice.

  • aquariusZodiac Sign Compitability

    The plant Stinking Hellebore is not used in astrology practice.

  • spiralPlant Symbolism

    • Protection: Helleborus foetidus, commonly known as Stinking Hellebore, is believed to ward off negative energies and protect against evil spirits, owing to its strong, disagreeable scent that was thought to repel malevolent beings.
    • New Beginnings: Blooming in late winter or early spring, Stinking Hellebore is a symbol of new beginnings and the resilience of life, as it pushes through the snow to bloom.
    • Healing: In traditional medicine, the Stinking Hellebore was used to treat paralysis, gout, and other maladies, symbolizing the healing of physical ailments.
    • Overcoming Adversity: Given its ability to bloom in harsh conditions, Stinking Hellebore symbolizes the overcoming of adversity and the persistence to succeed despite challenges.

Every 1-2 weeks
500 - 2500 Lux
Every 2-5 years
Spring to Summer
As needed
  • water dropWater

    The Stinking Hellebore should be watered thoroughly but infrequently, allowing the top inch of soil to dry out before watering again. Typically, deep watering once a week during active growth periods is sufficient, but this may vary depending on climate and weather conditions. Use about one gallon of water per plant each time, ensuring that the water penetrates deeply into the soil to reach the roots. During the winter months, reduce watering as the plant's growth slows down. Overwatering can be detrimental, so it's crucial to ensure good drainage and to never let the plant sit in waterlogged soil.

  • sunLight

    The Stinking Hellebore thrives in partial shade to full shade conditions. It is best suited for spots that are sheltered from intense afternoon sun, as too much direct sunlight can scorch its foliage. A location under deciduous trees is ideal, as it provides filtered light and also exposes the plant to more sunlight during the winter when the trees are bare.

  • thermometerTemperature

    The Stinking Hellebore is tolerant of a wide range of temperatures but prefers conditions between 32°F and 70°F for optimal growth. It can survive temperatures as low as 5°F, making it a robust choice for cooler climates. It is equally comfortable up to about 90°F, although it will need protection from strong sun and adequate moisture in higher temperatures.

  • scissorsPruning

    Pruning the Stinking Hellebore can help maintain its shape and encourage new growth. Trim back the old leaves in late winter or early spring before new growth starts, which helps prevent disease and allows the flowers to stand out. Pruning is typically done annually, and deadheading spent blooms can also promote a tidier appearance.

  • broomCleaning

    As needed

  • bambooSoil

    Stinking Hellebore thrives in well-draining, neutral to alkaline soil with a pH of 7.0-8.5. A mix of loam, peat moss, and perlite in equal parts is ideal to ensure good drainage and aeration.

  • plantRepotting

    Stinking Hellebore is a perennial that generally does not need frequent repotting. Re-pot it every 2-3 years or when it outgrows its container to refresh the soil.

  • water dropsHumidity & Misting

    Stinking Hellebore prefers moderate humidity levels but is tolerant of a wide range, making it quite adaptable to typical outdoor conditions.

  • pinSuitable locations

    • Indoor

      Ensure bright indirect light and cool temps for indoor Stinking Hellebore.

    • Outdoor

      Plant in partial shade, shelter from strong winds for outdoor Stinking Hellebore.

    • Hardiness zone

      4-9 USDA

  • circleLife cycle

    Helleborus foetidus, commonly known as the stinking hellebore, begins its life cycle as a seed which germinates in spring or early summer, requiring a period of cold stratification to break dormancy. The seed develops into a small rosette of leaves during its first year, focusing on establishing a strong root system. In its second year, the plant continues to grow vegetatively, with the foliage becoming larger and more robust. During the late winter or early spring of its second or third year, Helleborus foetidus produces clusters of bell-shaped, greenish flowers edged with maroon, which are pollinated by insects such as bees. After pollination, the flowers develop into seed capsules that release seeds once they mature by late spring or summer, thus completing the reproductive phase. The parent plant is perennial and can survive for several years, producing flowers and seeds annually once maturity is reached.

  • sproutPropogation

    • Propogation time

      Spring to Summer

    • The most popular method of propagation for the Helleborus foetidus, commonly known as the Stinking Hellebore, is through seed sowing. The best time to sow the seeds is as soon as they are ripe, which typically coincides with late spring to early summer. After collection, the seeds should be sown in containers filled with a well-draining seed starting mix. It is important to cover the seeds lightly with soil as they require darkness for optimal germination. The containers must be kept moist and in a cool environment; germination can be slow and erratic, often taking anywhere from 30 to 90 days. Seedlings should be allowed to grow sufficiently large before transplanting them into their final positions in the garden, usually by the following spring.