Helleborus foetidus

Bear Claw Hellebore

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Item #: 1211

Zones: 5a to 9b

Dormancy: Evergreen

Height: 15" tall

Culture: Part Sun to Shade

Origin: Western Europe

Pot Size: 3.5" pot (24 fl. oz/0.7 L)

For me, this is the most beautiful of all hellebores with rich dark-green evergreen palmate leaves on upright stems... eventually making a 3' wide clump. In very late winter and early spring, the clumps are topped with 1' tall panicles of green bell-like flowers... a truly spectacular addition to the year-round woodland garden! If you don't deadhead H. foetidus after flowering you'll need your own nursery to take care of the babies. This hellebore can be short lived (3 yrs) in poorly-drained soils.


The growth habit of Helleborus foetidus is quite different from the Lenten Rose, Helleborus x hybridus and the Christmas Rose, Helleborus niger and their near kin. Both Helleborus hybridus and Helleborus niger produce both leaves and flower stalks directly from the subterranean crown of the plant. The crown of a plant is a compressed stem and is characteristic of many herbaceous perennials such as Hostas and Hemerocallis (daylily). In contrast, Helleborus foetidus has a substantial aboveground stem that averages 18 to 24" tall. Individual stems have a two year life span. They are produced in the spring and they are well clothed with their dark green palmately divided leaves. Come late fall numerous paler green bracts and flower buds start to form at the apex of the stem. Soon they become a foot tall candelabra of pendant green bells. The pale green glows in the winter garden, especially on a overcast day. What Helleborus foetidus lacks in colorfulness (nothing actually) it makes up for in its very handsome architecture.

By summer the seeds are mature and shed from the fruit as the fruit open. At this point the whole stalk has completed its life cycle and need to be cut to the ground, leaving the new vegetative growth. Do NOT be discouraged by the following information: Helleborus foetidus has more of a live fast, die young life cycle than Helleborus x hybridus and Helleborus niger, which seem to live forever. Helleborus foetidus tends to be a permanent addition to a garden even though individual plants might live for just three to five years, because there are enough seedlings to replace old plants. Seeds start to germinate in late fall, with additional germination through the winter. With good care a seedling can bloom in about one year, certainly in two. And they transplant readily so the gardener can plant them where they are wanted. Space the seedlings about a foot apart.

Natural Impact:

Helleborus foetidus belongs in every garden where winter interest is desired and this species can be grown. The three to four month winter floral display is very showy. It combines well with all other plants of winter interest whether other herbaceous perennials or flowering trees and shrubs such as Camellia or Prunus mume, or plants with colorful twigs. Year-round, Helleborus foetidus is a handsome foliage plant.

Growing Conditions:

Helleborus foetidus is a zone 7 plant. In colder areas the foliage is damaged by cold. It wants shade to part shade. It does not want to be exposed to hot, midday sun in the summer. Avoid soggy soil.


The specific epithet "foetidus" means foetid. For this reason some call this Hellebore the "stinking Hellebore". To most, its odor is only evident when working amongst the plant. It is not usually an odor one notices on the air. It is not one that will chase gardeners from the garden.