Veratrum californicum

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Veratrum californicum
Veratrum californicum habitus1.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Liliales
Family: Melanthiaceae
Genus: Veratrum
V. californicum
Binomial name
Veratrum californicum

Veratrum californicum (California corn lily, white or California false hellebore) is an extremely poisonous plant[1][a] native to mountain meadows at 3500 to 11,000 ft elevation in southwestern North America, the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains, and as far north as Alaska and as far south as Durango.[2][3] It grows 1 to 2 meters tall, with an erect, unbranched, heavily leafy stem resembling a cornstalk.[4] 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.[3]

Veratrum californicum displays mast seeding; populations bloom and seed little in most years, but in occasional years bloom and seed heavily in synchrony.[5]

  1. Veratrum californicum var. californicum – from Washington to Durango
  2. Veratrum californicum var. caudatum (A.Heller) C.L.Hitchc. – Idaho, Washington, Oregon, N California

Teratogenic effects[edit]

It is a source of jervine, muldamine and cyclopamine, teratogens which can cause prolonged gestation associated with birth defects[6] 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.[7]




  1. ^ Sheep that consume the plant in the early weeks of pregnancy suffer birth defects in their offspring.[1]


  1. ^ a b Whitney, Stephen (1985). Western Forests (The Audubon Society Nature Guides). New York: Knopf. p. 551. ISBN 0-394-73127-1.
  2. ^ a b Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
  3. ^ a b Blackwell, Laird R. (1998). Wildflowers of the Sierra Nevada and the Central Valley. Lone Pine Publishing. ISBN 1-55105-226-1.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Inouye, David W.; Wielgolaski, Frans E. (2003). "High Altitude Climates". In Schwarz, Mark D. (ed.). Phenology: An Integrative Environmental Science. Kluwer Academic Publishers. pp. 195–214. ISBN 1-4020-1580-1. Retrieved 2011-12-07.
  6. ^ Van Kampen & Ellis. "Prolonged Gestation in Ewes Ingesting Veratrum californicum: Morphological Changes and Steroid Biosynthesis in the Endocrine Organs of Cyclopic Lambs".
  7. ^ 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.

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