Helleborus vesicarius Aucher, 1841
Helleborus vesicarius Aucher, 1841
Common name: Patlak otu, Çöpleme [Tu]
Sehit Kamil, GAZİANTEP ● Turkey
Description: A distinctive plant reaching about 18in (45cm) in height with fleshy stems arching outwards from the crown. There are both basal and stem leaves. The mature basal leaves are rather soft and fleshy and shining green in colour. Each leaf has three main divisions, the outer two being themselves immediately divided in two and each leaflet being strongly but irregularly divided then lobed. The foliage curls back at the edges by flowering time. The petiole may be up to 10in (25cm) in length, the leaf itself up to 8in (20cm) wide and 7in (18cm) long. The stem leaves are similar but smaller and the bracts also similar but noticeably pale yellow-green compared to the rest of the foliage. The general appearance of the foliage is very much that of a luxuriant buttercup or celery plant.
The flowers are gathered in twos and threes at the ends of the branched stems and are rather upright at first before turning downwards. Each flower is about 2/3in (18mm) long and 1/3in (10mm) wide, sometimes a little larger, and more or less cylindrical in shape. Each is green inside and out but shaded purple or chocolate brown towards the tip and sometimes for as much as half the length of each petal. The colour may be maroon, slightly hazy purple, greenish purple or a stronger purple shade and the petals may be tipped with green so the purple zone appears as a horizontal stripe.
The fruits are spectacular and the showiest feature of the plant. The three capsules, which are joined along their full length, become highly inflated to form a single balloon-like fruit which eventually reaches 3in (7.5cm) in length.
Bracts, leaves and leaflets are compact. Bracts are very leaf-like giving the flower stalk a caulescent appearance.
Biology: Apart from the individual flowers, which are similar in general appearance to those of H. foetidus, just about everything is distinctive. The growth cycle, the foliage, the fruits and its distribution mark it out from all other hellebores.
One of the most drastically different aspects of H. vesicarius is the inflated follicles that produce seed but do not split when ripe. Rather, the ripe capsules remain intact and break off to be dispersed by the wind.
Growth begins in November. Flowering occurs in February, March and April and fruits develop in April-May. As they mature and become drier the seed pods change from green to fawn to a bleached brown shade and become brittle; the stems then collapse and the wind blows the whole fruit away.H. vesicarius goes dormant very early in summer, so the plants have a rather short season of interest compared to most other hellebores.
Habitat: Exposed hillsides on alkaline soil, sometimes in clearings in scrub, in areas where the dry summers produce a generally dormant summer vegetation. In the same way that the bulbs with which it grows are adapted to these inhospitable conditions, H. vesicarius retains moisture in its fleshy roots and starts to grow again with the autumn rains. elevation 1500-4500'
Distribution: Restricted area in the coastal mountains of southeast Turkey and northern Syria, especially in the Amanus mountains south of Maras and across the Syrian border. See map here. The climate can be very dry and hot, but like other Mediterranean climates, nights can be quite cool even in summer.
McLewin and Mathew, 1999. Helleborus vesicarius and Helleborus thibetanus. The New Plantsman 6:3, 139-147.
Graham Rice/Elizabeth Strangman 1993-2002. Helleborus vesicarius