National Park Mystery Plant 10 Revealed: It's False Hellebore
We gave you these clues and challenged you to identify Mystery Plant 10:
• You do it with a hand auger, and I don't mean drill.
• You don't expect a man of that caliber to be so dull.
• That's a lie!
• Heaven for the climate, hell for society.
You were also given a bonus clue (no extra charge):
• Pushing up daisies is not a doctor-approved form of exercise.
Here is how to put it together and come up with the correct answer, which is false hellebore.
Heaven for the climate, hell for society.
Most people use a power drill to bore holes in wood, but you can use a hand auger for the same purpose.
Caliber is the diameter of the bore of a a firearm or artillery piece, usually expressed in hundredths or thousandths of an inch (for example, .45 caliber). A man who is dull is a bore.
If it's a lie, it's false.
The bonus clue hints that this plant is very poisonous. Indeed, false hellebore is highly toxic and can injure livestock and seriously harm or even kill a person who ingests too much of it.
False hellebore (Veratrum viride) is an herbaceous perennial belonging to the lily family. The mature false hellebore plant has an upright stem from two to six feet tall and leaves that are spirally arranged. When in bloom it bears large clusters of greenish-yellow flowers on branch ends. Many people would consider this plant pleasing -- or at least interesting -- to look at.
There are two major varieties of false hellebore: Veratrum viride var. viride grows in eastern North America from southern Quebec as far south as northern Georgia. Veratrum viride var. eschscholzianum grows in western North America from Alaska and Northwest Territory south along the Coast Range to the Pacific Northwest and northern California. Its native range extends inland to areas of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. Both varieties are absent deep in the continental interior and further south.
False hellebore is found in dozens of National Park System units, including Denali National Park & Preserve, Mount Rainier National Park, Acadia National Park, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, to name just a few.
In some high elevation and riparian areas of the mountainous western states, the range of Veratrum viride var. eschscholzianum overlaps with that of a close relative, California false hellebore (Veratrum californicum) -- aka skunk cabbage, cow cabbage, corn lily, or wild corn. As a practical matter, many find it convenient to call all three varieties false hellebore and let it go at that.
False hellebore prefers damp or wet soils in meadows, hillsides, sunny stream banks, seepages, and open-canopy forests. In the southern Appalachians it can be found at elevations as high as 5,000 feet or so. In the western U.S. it has been found at elevations as high as 8,000 feet or so.
This plant has many colloquial names, including American white hellebore, blue hellebore, big hellebore, Indian hellebore, Indian poke, tickleweed, itchweed, devils bite, duck retten, bear corn, and poor Annie.
Whatever you may call it, you don't want to mess with it. False hellebore contains steroidal alkaloids that can be very dangerous when eaten in large enough quantities (varies with size, age, physical condition, and other factors). The roots, rhizomes, and young shoots are particularly toxic.
Symptoms of false hellebore poisoning include burning sensation in the mouth and throat, excessive salivation, cold sweat, headache, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain and gastrointestinal distress (diarrhea, gas), slow respiration and breathing difficulty, slow and irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, and spasms or convulsions. If not promptly and effectively treated, false hellebore poisoning can cause general paralysis and even death. It is also known to cause birth defects.
Prompt medical attention is vital and can make all the difference. A good case in point occurred earlier this year when five people who had been hiking the Chilkoot Trail (part of the Alaska component of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park ) were evacuated by helicopter to a Skagway, Alaska hospital for emergency medical treatment after they consumed small quantities of false hellebore root bulbs. Although one was in critical condition for a while and another was becoming seriously sick, all five were successfully treated and released.
Since false hellebore is harmful to livestock as well as humans, and can be invasive -- especially in overgrazed areas -- grazers consider it a range weed. It causes severe poisoning in sheep and can also affect goats and cattle. If eaten during early pregnancy, it causes deformities in the offspring.