False Unicorn (Helonias)

Scientific name: Chamaelirium luteum, Varatrum luteum

Common names: Swamp Pink, Fairywand, Devil’s Bit or Starwort.  Devil’s-bit, Fairy Wand, Blazing Star, Drooping Starwort, Rattlesnake-root, Squirrel Tails, and False Unicorn Root.

Ayurvedic names: 

Chinese names: 

Bangladesh names:

Arabic names:   وحيد القرن الكاذب (waheed al qarn al qaadhib)

Rain Forest names:

Family: Liliaceae

Approximate number of species known:

Common parts used: Root, Rhzome

Collection: May to june

Annual/Perennial: Perennial

Height: 1 to 4 feet

Actions: Anthelmintic, emetic, emmenagogue, uterine tonic

Common Name: fairy wand  

Type: Herbaceous perennial

Family: Melanthiaceae

Native Range: Eastern North America

Zone: 4 to 9

Height: 2.00 to 4.00 feet

Spread: 1.00 to 1.50 feet

Bloom Time: May to June

Bloom Description: White

Sun: Part shade to full shade

Water: Medium

Maintenance: Low

Suggested Use: Naturalize

Flower: Showy

Is above paragraph needed?

Known Constituents:  Steroidal saponins including chamaelirin

Constituents Explained:   two new steroidal saponins 1and 2 that contain an unusual aglycone 3. The absolute configurations of these molecules were unable to be determined spectroscopically and thus the total synthesis of 3 was undertaken and achieved in 16 steps and 1.6 % overall yield from pregnenolone. 


steroidal saponins and fatty acids.

The root contains 0.0013% diosgenin


C. luteum is an herbaceous dioecious perennial – the female plant growing to 4 feet and the male plant rather smaller. The whole plant is glabrous, starting with a basal rosette of lanceolate or spatulate-shaped leaves, from which the flowering spike arises. The spikes bear small linear leaves, alternately arranged. C. luteum is thought to be a very longlived plant, existing for several years in a juvenile or vegetative state (Meagher & Antonovics, 1982). The flowers, when they appear in spring, are small, greenish- white with six tepals, arranged in dense spike-like racemes. The longer male spike emerges first, but dies back after flowering. The female spike may last for 2-3 years. The fruit is a loculicidal capsule, with several seeds appearing in each locule. The light-brown rhizomes are compact and non-spreading, with tough wiry rootlets. The rhizome curves upwards at the tip – hence the name „unicorn root‟, (Rural Action, 2005; Gleason & Cronquist, 1991; Allard 2003). Male plants tend to be far more numerous than females (Meagher & Antonovics, J., 1982). C. luteum is native to the Eastern half of the USA, preferring bogs or damp soils in woodlands and meadows (Krochmal, Walters & Doughty, 1969). Due to loss of old growth forests and overharvesting for medicine, the current abundance and range of the species is much reduced (Soule, 2000; Martin, 2010, Allard, 2003). 


The False Unicorn has a basal rosette of around six 8?15 cm leaves, from which a single spike-like raceme inflorescence (1?1.5 cm diameter, 8?30 cm length) emerges. The plants are generally dioecious, with male-biased gender ratios in a given population. This is due to higher mortality of female plants, and the tendency of female plants to flower less frequently. Female stalks tend to be taller, giving a total maximum plant height of about 1.2 m, but also tend to have about ten times fewer flowers.

Grow in organically rich, moist, acidic, well-drained soils in part shade to full shade. Prefers good fertility. Soils should not be allowed to dry out. May be grown from seed. Best propagation is by division of the rhizome. Will naturalize in the garden over time. Plants with small rhizomes may not initially produce flowering stalks.

Chamaelirium luteum, commonly called fairy wand, is native to moist, acidic soils in shaded areas of meadows, woods and thickets in eastern North America. It is a dioecious plant with a short-rhizome that typically grows 2-3’ (less frequently to 4’) tall and features a basal rosette of foliage and a central flowering stalk. Male plants grow up to 2.5’ tall, but female plants may grow as tall as 4’. Tiny flowers in spike-like terminal racemes appear in June. Flowers on the male plant grow in dense, arching, plume-like spikes (to 9” long). Flowers on the female plants are in smaller erect spikes. Female plants produce seed in 3-valved, ellipsoid capsules. The dark green basal leaves (to 8” long) are smooth and spoon-shaped, but the stem leaves are much shorter and narrower. This plant has a number of additional common names including false unicorn root, devil’s bit, blazing star, starwort, rattlesnake-root, squirrel tails and helonias. Plants have become rare in many parts of the original geographic range, and should never be dug from the wild.

Genus name comes from the Greek words chamai meaning dwarf and lirion meaning a lily.

Specific epithet means yellow.


Traditional Use:  Traditionally considered a uterine tonic  A herb used by the Native American people.  A fabulous female tonic that is used to stregnthen and assist the ovaries, uterus, hormonal imbalances, and lack of fertility.  Used in times of potential miscarriage, and to help with the nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. Unfortunately the plant is endangered?

Used for men too.

Chamaelirium luteum is used both medicinally and as an ornamental plant. Called “helonias” in the medicinal and herbal literature, C. luteum was used by American Indians and by 1917 was  onsidered one of the more widely used domestic drugs in North America. Medicinal uses include treatment of colic, stomach ailments, indigestion, the expulsion of worms, stimulation of appetite, and a variety of ailments associated with both male and female reproductive organs. False Unicorn Root contains estrogenic compounds2.

Allard, D. J. 2003. Chamaelirium luteum (L.) A. Gray (Devil’s Bit). Conservation and
Research Plan for New England. New England Wild Flower Society, Framingham,
Massachusetts, USA.

Dr john Chirsotpher used it for coneception, to help avoid potential miscarriage and to help the uterus clean after an abortion.

It has also been used to heal women with uterine prolapse

However, large doses will cause nausea and vomiting.

In large doses a cardiac poison

Clinical Studies: