In some regions, the Helleborus flower is also known as the winter rose, Christmas rose, and Lenten rose. Despite the nickname, the five-petal flower has no relationship with the genus Rosaceae. In fact, the Helleborus carries its own genus with around 20 subspecies. Many of the Helleborus flower types are poisonous for human and animals.
Helleborus Origin and Subspecies
Helleborus is native to Europe and some parts of Asia. Coming from a colder climate, the Helleborus plants survive well in winter and will bloom from the late winter to early spring. Though some may be poisonous, many of the subspecies have a beautiful appearance with petal colors ranging from greenish purple, white and pink, golden yellow, and green with a hint of maroon. The colors may change as the flower age.
Generally, the flower has five petals with intact sepals that look like outer petals. The sepals play a big role in preparing the flower seeds even after the flower dies. As a perennial flowering plant, the Helleborus is resistant to frost and tend to be evergreen throughout the season. From the 20 subspecies, below are the most common Helleborus flower to plant in a home garden:
One of the most popular subspecies is the Helleborus niger which is known as the Christmas rose. It is a traditional cottage garden flora with a white flower. The name derived from its blooming time which is mainly in winter. In nature, you can find this plant growing freely on the mountains of Switzerland, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, and parts of Germany.
The height of the plant may grow as tall as 30cm, consisting of stems, leaves, and flowers. The foliage is dark colored with a leathery texture. The petals are mainly white with a hint of pink or purple. Many home gardeners plant the H. niger because of its ability to bloom in winter, adding a bit of color while most plants are going dormant.
The Helleborus orientalis is also known as the Lenten rose. It is native to regions around Greece and Turkey and has different physical characteristics with the H. niger. The name Lenten rose is attached because the flower blooms during Lent period which occur between the Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.
The plant grows as tall as 45 centimeters with leathery palmate foliage. The flower resembles a buttercup with pink colors and magenta spots, which usually blooms in a group of 4 or 5. In the middle of the cup-like flower, the stamen is bright yellow. The cultivated subspecies of H. orientalis may have white, green, or purple petals. Despite the beauty, all parts of the flower are poisonous.
The Helleborus foetidus goes by the name stinking hellebore or dungwort. It can be found naturally in some parts of Asia, Greece, and Central and Southern Europe. In England, you can find the plant grow wildly in limestone soils. Despite the nickname, the flower is not necessarily foul-smelling unless it is being crushed.
Among other subspecies, the H. foetidus grows the tallest up to 80 centimeters. The stems are succulent-like, standing upright with thick leathery leaves. The sepals are strongly attached to the drooping flower which commonly grows in yellowish green color. When being eaten, the effect may range from severe vomiting to a temporary state of delirium. It is due to the chemical reaction of glycosides that are found in the plant.
Grow Hellebores in Your Garden
In fact, Helleborus plants are not an easy one to grow and care. Some species need extra care of the right soil condition, or otherwise, it may not flower. Not to mention that you may want to keep it away from any pets you have because it is poisonous. Most of the plant varieties are propagated from string seed to get an easier grow. Yet, once established, Helleborus care can be categorized as easy.
Generally, you have to prepare a well-drained and organically rich soil. For H. niger and H. orientalis, the plant prefers an alkaline and humus-rich soil with the right level of moisture. Meanwhile, the H. foetidus may grow well on limestone soil. Some gardeners prefer to plant it on a raised bed so that the display of the facing-down flowers can be seen better.
The perennial evergreen plant prefers a partly-shaded area and may grow well even under a filtered sun. It is best to plant it under a bigger leafy tree which will provide the perfect shade and sunlight amount for the plant.
The plant will mostly be actively growing during winter and spring. During this time, water the plant frequently to see it grow profusely. Ease down the watering amount and frequency towards summer because the plant will go dormant in the hot season. Later on, the plant would regrow and preparing to bloom again when the temperature is dropping.
The most important thing in fertilizing Hellebores is to keep the soil from being acidic. An organic manure or compost fertilizer can be applied annually just before the blooming period. However, be careful of the nitrogen level on organic fertilizer as it will grow more leaves than the flower.
When you are growing the plant from seeds, make sure that you plant it on fall. The seed needs at least 60 days to be cooled down and preparing to develop in mid-winter. It may take around 3 – 4 years for the plant to bloom flowers. For older plants, seek for browning and aging leaves and remove it to allow new leaves to grow.
As a perennial plant, you can actually have the plant all year round with the right steps of care. Whether you are planting it on a pot, raised bed, or on the ground, the look of blooming flower in winter will definitely color the dullness of the snow.
Despite its poisonous characteristic, many gardeners prefer to plant the Helleborus flower along with other plants like daffodils, snowdrops, and muscari. Its evergreen foliage and unique look of the flower that blooms in winter is the main reason for growing it on your garden.