Helleborus orientalis (Lenten Rose)
Helleborus orientalis (Lenten Rose). Seed grown stock grown from our own seed, harvested from a wide selection of choice varieties collected over the last 20 years. Pictures show a sample of the plants we collect seed from. These are unflowered plants. As they flower we will offer them as coloured varieties under the specified colour products.
Origin –The Balkans, Greece and Asia Minor
Height up to 60cm
Hellebores are so welcome as they bloom soon after Christmas at a time when flowers are so scarce. They come in such a wonderful variety of colour; whites through to pinks and blue-black purples, with some in shades of green and yellow. Many are beautifully spotted inside, but no two are ever identical. Nowadays there are a bewildering array of doubles to add to the mix. Anyone taking the time to stop and lift up a bloom is always well rewarded.
There are a number of different types of Hellebore and this seems to cause some confusion, which I will try to clarify here. I have simplified somewhat and missed out some species.
Christmas Roses are the ones you get all over Christmas cards, pure white with a central boss of yellow stamens. This is Helleborus niger. It’s a short plant with very glossy dark green leaves and rarely flowers before January. When it does the flowers are born mostly singly on short stiff upright stems.
The Lenten Rose is Helleborus orientalis and its hybrids.This flowers more February onwards and is taller with nodding flowers in shades of white, pink and purple (and yellow). The flowers are always on stems of more than one, but never that many.
Neither of these has any form of stalk or main stem.
Then there are two species with green flowers that yearly grow a stalk clothed in leaves. Our native Helleborus foetidus has deeply fingered leaves and terminal clusters of barely open blooms. Helleborus argutifolius is my far the biggest, with coarse saw-toothed leaves and big clusters of wide open green blooms. (Helleborus lividus is its more diminutive cousin)
Lately there have been a large number of crosses between Helleborus niger and Helleborus sternii, producing a range of lovely cultivars intermediate between the two. Rodney Davey of R&D Plantshas also recently produced some stunning pioneering crosses involving wider parentage which are sure to become very popular.
Culturally hellebores are fairly easy to cultivate, tolerating a wide range of conditions, though a little knowledge of where they come from will help you to get the best from them. On the whole they grow in the wild in deep rich soils with good organic content, usually with access to moisture all year. Frequently these soils are over limestone. They frequently grow in scrub or light woodland on hillsides. Where they can be found in the wild flowering in full sun, you will often find that later in the year the foliage is shaded by tall growth of ferns or grass. So to sum this all up they like a humus rich soil that doesn’t dry out, plenty of light but shaded from the sun during the hotter months.
Technically the 5 showy petals that make up each bloom are not really petals, instead being sepals – the structure that encloses a flower. If you look carefully you can see that these split into 2 distinct types, the inner sepals that are most petal-like, and the two outer sepals that enclose the unopened bud and which are sometimes slightly greener. The true petals are modified into nectar producing structures and are the (usually) green ring at the base of the stamens.
Helleborus orientalis has been crossed many times with closely related species to give us the fantastic array of colour forms we now enjoy. From a botanical point of view, these are classified under the name Helleborus x hybridus. However, this name is only used infrequently in the trade, the less formal Helleborus orientalis hybrids being more common.
Hellebores have a long and fascinating association with witchcraft and folk remedies, frequently being planted close to the entrance to a cottage to prevent evil spirits from entering. It was believed that a person was sure to die within the year if a hawk pied them lifting a root. So, to be entirely safe, when planting your hellebore be sure to recite a chant to Apollo and circle the ground with your sword.
Hellebores should never be used for self-medication as all parts of the plant are poisonous if eaten.