False-hellebore Family

Giant Trillium © EKennedy

Bunchflower Family
Melanthiaceae (mel-an-thi-AY-see-ee)

Iconic Features

  • Often with bunches of lily-like, showy flowers
  • Usually 6 similar petals and sepals
  • Many species poisonous

Description (Jepson)

  • Monocotyledons (monocot) – monocots are a major lineage of flowering, mostly herbaceous plants, generally characterized by
    • Single seed leaf (cotyledon)
    • Linear or oblong leaves with parallel venation
    • Flower parts in threes
    • Pollen grains with a single pore
    • Vascular bundles scattered in stem
    • Fibrous root system
  • Perennial herbs
  • Geophytes (plants with underground storage organs)
    • Grow from bulbs (short underground stems with fleshy leaves, e.g. onions) or rhizomes (horizontal underground stems)
  • Leaves
    • Alternate (1 leaf at each junction with stem), whorled (3 or more leaves at each junction with stem), or basal
    • Simple (not divided into leaflets)
  • Flowers
    • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) in bunches or, less commonly, single flowers
    • Bisexual flowers with 3 petals and 3 sepals (outer flower parts), in 2 separate whorls
      • Sometimes similar in appearance and collectively called tepals
    • 6 stamens (male flower parts)
    • 3 separate or incompletely fused styles (stalks of the pistil, female flower parts)
    • Ovary wholly or partly superior (above the attachment of other flower parts)
  • Fruit is a 3-chambered capsule (a dry, multi-chambered fruit that splits open at maturity)


  • Approximately 130 species in the Northern Hemisphere
    • Includes death camases and trilliums
  • Geophytes (e.g. plants growing from bulbs, corms, rhizomes, or enlarged taproots) are well adapted to survive fire, our Mediterranean climate’s long, dry summers, and extended droughts
    • Above-ground growth dies back after flowering, while underground the plant survives with stored water and nutrients
  • CAUTION – Many plants in this family, including death camas / star lilies (Toxicoscordion species) and California false hellebore (Veratrum californicum), contain highly toxic steroidal alkaloids
  • Scientific name from the included genus Melanthium, from the Greek melas, “black,” and anthos, “flower,” referring to the black petals and sepals (outer flower parts) of some species (Flora of North America)
  • Common name from that of the included genus Veratrum
  • Represented by 3 species at Edgewood

See General References

Browse Some Edgewood Plants in this Family