Daily Flower Candy: Veratrum album

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One of my favourite sculptural plants, Veratrum album, is also a pretty nasty poison, with a long history of accidental and deliberate death. Alexander the Great is thought to have inadvertently poisoned himself by imbibing false helleborine, in the belief that it might cure diarrhoea. Americans indians used the plant as part of the ritual of finding a new tribal chief. The contender whose stomach withstood the purgative effect the longest was deemed the strongest and fit to lead the rest. Just breathing in the alkaloid-heavy scent of the flowers induces sneezing and can damage the nasal passages. A magnificent, statuesque perennial for woodland gardens, but best admired from afar.

Pictured here in the physic garden at Herterton House, Northumberland.