Helleborus is a genus that contains about 20 species of flowering plants, commonly known in cultivation as Hellebores. These flowers are native to several regions of Europe and Asia, with the greatest concentration of species occurring in Turkey and the Caucasus.
Hellebores are very easy to grow and care for, needing only a shaded location, proper soil, and occasional watering to thrive. These plants are pretty popular ornamentals worldwide not only due to their low-demanding nature but also for their overwhelming beauty.
Hellebores come with plenty of stunning cultivars to choose from. Some of these are ‘Amber Gem’, ‘Amethyst Gem’, ‘Angel’s Glow’, ‘Anna’s Red’, ‘Berry Swirl’, ‘Cotton Candy’, ‘Ivory Prince’, ‘Penny’s Pink’, ‘HGC Jacob’, ‘Onyx Odyssey’, ‘Painted Doubles’, or ‘Rose Quartz’.
- Besides the varieties mentioned above, Hellebores also come with lots of attractive and unique hybrids. These include ‘Candy Love’, ‘Double Ellen White Spotted’, ‘Harvington Double White’, ‘HGC Pink Frost’, ‘Party Dress Pink’, and ‘Phoebe’.
- The Helleborus ‘Walberton’s Rosemary’ and ‘Blackthorn Group’ hybrids with the H. argutifolius, H. foetidus, H. lividus, H. niger species have gained the well-known Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.
- Hellebores are spectacular additions to mass or foundation plantings, shady borders, woodland gardens, naturalized areas, under trees or large shrubs, and containers. For the best visual impact, plant these flowers in groups or as ground covers.
- A few Hellebore species enjoy cultural importance, playing a big part in folklore. According to an old Christian legend, H. niger (Christmas rose) sprouted in the snow from the tears of a little girl who did not have a gift for the Christ child in Bethlehem.
- Hellebores appear very often in various Greek myths. For example, Melampus of Pylos used Hellebore to cure the daughters of the King of Argos of madness, which Dionysus induced to them.
- Another passage from Greek mythology presents Heracles which, in a fit of madness induced by Hera, killed his children. After this episode, his madness passed away as he was cured by Hellebore plants.
- Many Helleborus species are poisonous for both people and animals. For the safety of your curious kids or furry buddies, it is wise to grow these flowers in a location where your loved ones cannot reach them.
- Hellebores make for wonderful additions in many plant combinations along with eye-catching species like Winter Aconite, Crocus ‘Ruby Giant’, Narcissus ‘Thalia’, Coral Bells, Snowdrop, Siberian Bugloss, Giant Wake Robin, Glory of the Snow, or Dog Tooth Violet.
Hellebores Features: An Overview
- Hellebores belong to the Ranunculaceae family usually known as the crowfoot or buttercup family. They share this large family with over 2000 other species of flowering plants.
- The plants from the Helleborus genus are usually herbaceous or evergreen perennials. Depending on the species, variety, and hybrid, they can reach from 1 to 2 feet (31-61 cm) in height with a similar spread.
- The foliage of Hellebores is a key feature for identifying the species, being very specific in its appearance. It consists of small, palmate or pedate, deeply cut, and green, pink, or brownish leaves that grow on long, thick, and green to pink stems.
- All Hellebore species come with tripartite leaves that contain divided leaflets. The leaves are initially smooth and turn somewhat leathery with time. On most specimens, they have serrated or dentate edges.
- In general, Hellebores can bloom anytime from late winter through late spring. During this period, they exhibit numerous single, double, or showy clusters of flowers that can last for 6 to 8 weeks.
- Their blossoms have a wide range of shapes and sizes. Likewise, they come along with a generous colour palette containing shades of white, yellow, pink, red, purple, green, black, and also hypnotic patterns or colour mixes.
- When the time of fruit-bearing has come, Hellebores produce them right in the middle of their flowers. The fruits are follicles filled with 10 to 20 or rarely 1-2 black, shiny seeds.
It is safe to say that Hellebores are one of the most easy-going ornamental companions to have around. Although they have some particular demands in terms of environmental and growing conditions, it will be pretty simple to meet them. And once you manage to simulate their natural habitat at your home, these cute perennials will be by your side for a very long time.
When it comes to lighting, Hellebores perform best in locations where they can experience partial to full shade exposure. These flowers can also tolerate some spring sunlight. However, we recommend you grow them near trees or other tall species of plants that will provide them with shadier conditions in time.
The temperature values that these plants can tolerate usually vary from one species to another. Most cultivars are winter hardy as far north as the USDA zones 4 or 5. Still, you can always find Hellebores that can do just fine in the USDA zones 3 to 9. In regions with cooler climates, it is wise to protect your beloved flowers from harsh winter conditions, such as cold winds.
While most pests do not find Hellbores very interesting, aphids find them attractive. In the first stages of a possible infestation, these intruders will not affect the overall well-being of your plants. However, if the foliage of these flowers presents unhealthy parts, you should get into action. Remove all the affected parts from your plants and spray them with horticultural oil or, for severe cases, a suitable pesticide.
Other common issues that can unbalance your Hellebores include fungal issues like downy mildew or leaf spots. If you notice any suspect sign on these plants, you can treat them using fungicides to stop any future spread.
For optimal growth, make sure you plant your Hellebores in either spring or autumn. If your flowers seem to grow very slowly or lack flowers, do not worry! Some species typically develop slower than others and may need two seasons or so before showing signs of blooming.
In terms of soil, Hellebores thrive in neutral to slightly alkaline substrates that have a pH of 7.0 to 8.0. If your garden soil is more on the acidic side, you should consider adding some lime to obtain the preferred pH. Likewise, these plants show the best results in organic-rich soils that also come along with excellent drainage.
Right at the time of planting, your Hellebores will need a fertilizer that is rich in organic matter, such as compost or well-decayed manure. Add this product into the soil, then feed your plants regularly once every spring and early fall. If you are growing these flowers in soil that is rich enough, you can skip fertilizing them with chemical products for good.
The only time when you will need to pay more attention to your Hellebores than usual will be in their first year after planting. During this period, you must water your flowers whenever the soil feels dry to the touch. Be careful, though! Although young plants prefer some moisture once in a while, they will not appreciate having their feet wet or waterlogged.
Once established, however, things will get easier in the watering routine of your Hellebores. These plants will become fairly tolerant of drought for prolonged periods. This particular feature makes them perfect companions for every type of gardener, especially beginners or forgetful ones.
The most efficient way to make more of these gorgeous flowers is by propagating them through division. This particular method requires little to no effort on your part and no experience in the gardening world. However, H. argutifolius and H. foetidus species do not respond well to division, so you should avoid exposing them to this kind of stress.
First things first, dig your entire Hellebores out of the growing medium in early spring, then remove any extra soil from their roots. This step will help you notice the buds that usually grow on the plant’s crown. Divide the roots of your plants so that each section has at least two buds attached to it. After this process, you can replant the Hellebores sections absolutely anywhere you want to.
If you have one of the two Hellebores species mentioned above, it is better to propagate them through seed. Likewise, you can use this method for hybrid specimens, but they may bear seeds that do not come true to the parent plants. In general, hybrid seeds produce plants that look more like one of the parent species, not like the hybrids themselves. For guaranteed results, we recommend you divide them.
The seeds from Hellebore species do not remain viable very long, so you should start new plants only with fresh seeds. Plant the seeds in containers filled with fresh potting soil and keep them outdoors in a shaded, warm area for the entire summer. If you maintain their soil constantly moist, the seeds will germinate properly in the fall or next spring.
Now that you are more familiar with Hellebores, it is time to add one or more of these beauties to your collection! And when they give you so many fabulous options to choose from, deciding which type fits your outdoor area best is obviously the hardest part. But once you have these flowers around, you will not regret your decision!