The height of summer might be an odd time to be thinking of winter but
that is just what I was doing the other day. Cheryl and I were looking
at some of our Hellebores and I was reminded that these plants are
among the very first to bloom each year. In many areas, Hellebores are
blooming as early as February.
The Hellebore genus is native to Europe and varieties can be found
from the Mediterranean region to the northern reaches of Ukraine and
into the Caucasus states such as Georgia, Armenia and Southern Russia.
Perhaps this diversity explains why many Hellebore varieties feel at
home in the varied climates of the United States.
If you are considering adding Hellebores to your own landscape, I will
describe four easy-care hybrids that might be perfect for you. But
first, let me share some fascinating facts and myths about these
At first glance, it seems that the Hellebore’s petals remain long
after you would have expected them to wither and die back. The reason?
They are not petals at all. Each flower has five petal-like sepals
that surround a ring of small nectaries that are the “real” petals,
secreting nectar that attracts pollinators. The true job of a sepal in
nature is to protect a flower in bud. In the case of Hellebores, the
sepals themselves remain to become a delightful, and often colorful,
feature of the plant.
One variety of Hellebore is nicknamed “The Christmas Rose” even though
it is definitely not a member of the rose family and does not bloom at
Christmas. Legend has it that it sprouted up through the snow from the
tears of a little girl crying because she had no gift for the baby
On the other hand, there are folklore tales of witches adding
Hellebore to their cauldrons to summon up demons. However, other
legends describe Hellebore being used to ward off demons. A versatile
There is evidence that the Ancient Greeks used certain Hellebore
varieties for medicinal purposes, often as a purge or an emetic.
However, the roots of certain Hellebores can be highly toxic and I
strongly advise you not to self-medicate with any Hellebore plants!
Leaving aside tears in the snow, demons, medicines and poisons,
Hellebores can certainly be an excellent addition to your landscape,
particularly when you want to see some floral color in later winter
and early spring.
Hellebore Red Lady
This hybrid produces red-maroon sepals in winter that persist into
Hellebore Blue Lady
This is one of the darkest forms of Hellebore with deep purple-blue
flowers that I find breathtaking.
Hellebore Pink Lady
If you prefer a more delicate color, the Pink Lady could be for you,
with her showy, cup-like sepals in shades of pale pink.
Hellebore Ivory Prince Plant this handsome young fellow alongside one
(or more) of the beautiful Ladies. Prince’s creamy-white coloring
compliments his showier companions.
All of the hybrids I’ve described here have lush, shiny, evergreen
foliage that is very attractive even when not in bloom. Growing to a
height of only one to two feet, these Hellebores can make a delightful
groundcover forming clumps about two feet wide.
If your landscape includes a raised bed, so much the better as you’ll
be able to really appreciate the beauty of their colorful, gently
In a perfect world, these Hellebores would prefer being placed on the
edge of a woodland setting with moist loamy soil. To approximate these
conditions, plant them in a semi-shaded area in soil that is rich in
organic matter. Dig a hole twice as large as the root ball and add
some compost or other bulky organic matter before planting the
These deer-resistant hybrids are long-lived and require little or no
care once established, but they seem to flower more vigorously when
organic matter is added in the spring.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs
and landscaping to firstname.lastname@example.org and for resources and
additional information, or to subscribe to Steve’s free e-mailed
newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org