False hellebore (Veratrum viride) is a plant that grows in swampy areas often intermixed with skunk cabbage. Although it is a large plant with a long, upright inflorescence of flowers, it can go unnoticed because of the similarity of the leaves in size and color to those of skunk cabbage. Closer examination will show the differences: the leaves of false hellebore are pleated and grow up the stem rather than just from the ground like those of skunk cabbage.
Like some other wetland plants, including skunk cabbage, it has deep, tenacious roots that help hold it in place in the wet, sometimes flooded swamp.
And as with many poisonous plants, false hellebore is also important medicinally. A compound responsible for lowering blood pressure is obtained from its roots.
Plants do not flower until they have reached maturity at about 10 years, and then only erratically. The flowers of false hellebore must be examined closely to be appreciated. They are about 1” across and the same green as the rest of the plant with bright yellow anthers being the most noticeable part. Each tepal has a pair of nectar-producing glands at the base. Ants visit to feed on this sweet resource.
Learn more about false hellebore and other spring wildflowers in Carol Gracie’s book, Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast: A Natural History.