Veratrum

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Veratrum

 

(false hellebore), a genus of large perennial herbs of the family Liliaceae. The rootstock is short and thickened. The leaves are plicate; the lower ones are broad and amplexicaul. The bisexual and staminate flowers are in a panicled inflorescence. The stellate perianth is corolliform and six-parted to the base. The fruit is a capsule that is segmented into three fruitlets.

There are about 25 species, distributed in the temperate and, less commonly, cold zones of the northern hemisphere. The USSR has nine species. V. lobelianum, which has yellowish green flowers, grows in the forest and forest-steppe zones in moist (often floodplain) meadows, in sparse forests, and amid shrubbery. V. nigrum, which has black-purple flowers, is found mainly in the steppe zone on slopes, in forest meadows (rarely in floodplain meadows), and amid shrubbery. The white-flowered V. album is found in the Carpathians on mountain meadows.

All species of Veratrum are poisonous. Alkaloids are present throughout the plant but mainly in the rootstocks and roots. Particularly poisonous are V. lobelianum and V. album, which produce severe poisoning and death of horses, cattle, and domestic fowl. These two species are most toxic when they are young. An infusion of their rootstocks and roots is used as an insecticide against skin parasites, for example, scabies. In veterinary medicine preparations obtained from the plants are used to improve digestion, to induce vomiting in pigs and dogs, and to treat hypodermosis in cattle.

REFERENCES

Atlas lekarstvennykh rastenii SSSR. Moscow, 1962.
Vil’ner, A. M. Kormovye otravleniia, 5th ed. Leningrad, 1974.

T. V. EGOROVA