Veratrum californicum

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Veratrum californicum
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
Order: Liliales
Family: Melanthiaceae
Genus: Veratrum
Species: V. californicum
Binomial name
Veratrum californicum

Veratrum californicum (California corn lily, white or California false hellebore) is a poisonous plant native to mountain meadows at 3500 to 11,000ft elevation in southwestern North America, the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains, and as far north as Washington State.[1] It grows 1 to 2 meters tall, with an erect, unbranched, heavily leafy stem resembling a cornstalk.[2] It prefers quite moist soil, and can cover large areas in dense stands near streams or in wet meadows. Many inch-wide flowers cluster along the often-branched top of the stout stem; they have 6 white tepals, a green center, 6 stamens, and a 3-branched pistil (see image below). The buds are tight green spheres. The heavily veined, bright green leaves can be more than a foot long.[1]

Veratrum californicum displays mast seeding; populations bloom and seed little in most years, but in occasional years bloom and seed heavily in synchrony.[3]

Teratogenic effects[edit]

It is a source of jervine and cyclopamine, teratogens which can cause prolonged gestation associated with birth defects[4] such as holoprosencephaly and cyclopia in animals such as sheep, horses, and other mammals that graze upon it. These substances inhibit the hedgehog signaling pathway.[5]

Use as prime material for medical drugs[edit]

Cyclopamine extracted from V. californicum is being used in anti-cancer experimental drugs. One derivative of it, compound name IPI-926, is currently undergoing clinical trials for the treatment of various types of cancer, including hard-to-treat hematologic malignancies, chondrosarcoma, and pancreatic cancer.[6] IPI-926 is the only compound in development/testing that is not fully synthetic.[7]


  1. ^ a b Blackwell, Laird R. (1998). Wildflowers of the Sierra Nevada and the Central Valley. Lone Pine Publishing. ISBN 1-55105-226-1. 
  2. ^ Niehaus, Theodore F.; Ripper, Charles L.; Savage, Virginia (1984). A Field Guide to Southwestern and Texas Wildflowers. Houghton Mifflin Company. pp. 10–11. ISBN 0-395-36640-2. 
  3. ^ Inouye, David W.; Wielgolaski, Frans E. (2003). "High Altitude Climates". In Schwarz, Mark D. (editor). Phenology: An Integrative Environmental Science. Kluwer Academic Publishers. pp. 195–214. ISBN 1-4020-1580-1. Retrieved 2011-12-07. 
  4. ^ Van Kampen & Ellis. "Prolonged Gestation in Ewes Ingesting Veratrum californicum: Morphological Changes and Steroid Biosynthesis in the Endocrine Organs of Cyclopic Lambs". 
  5. ^ Chen, J; Taipale, J; Cooper, M. (2002). "Inhibition of Hedgehog Signaling by direct binding of Cyclopamine to Smoothened". Genes Dev. 16 (21): 2743–2748. doi:10.1101/gad.1025302. PMC 187469. PMID 12414725. 
  6. ^ "Pipeline: IPI-926". Infinity Pharmaceuticals. 
  7. ^ Tremblay, MR; Lescarbeau, A; Grogan, MJ; Tan, E; Lin, G; Austad, BC; Yu, LC; Behnke, ML et al. (2009). "Discovery of a potent and orally active hedgehog pathway antagonist (IPI-926)". Journal of Medical Chemistry 52 (14): 4400–18. doi:10.1021/jm900305z. PMID 19522463. 

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