Christmas Rose: The Perfect Hellebore

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

The pure white, outward-facing flower of Christmas rose, Helleborus niger

In the rush to seek out the newest and rarest hellebores on the market,  I am afraid that gardeners are neglecting to explore fully the wonderful qualities of the Christmas rose, Helleborus niger.  Christmas rose is a  species hellebore no garden should be without.  In addition, recently introduced cultivars have made this species a must have for gardeners seeking fall and winter interest.

The smooth, blue-green leaves of Christmas rose are pristine and beautiful and often have red stems

Christmas roses have been in cultivation for hundreds of years and are a very distinctive species hellebore with little variation in the wild.  They are native to woodlands and open areas of the central and eastern Alps in Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, and northern Italy.  They are about 9 to 12″ in height with a very woody root system.  The smooth, leathery dark blue-green leaves are deeply divided into 7 to 9 leaflets with irregular teeth around the tip.  If covered with snow, the leaves will stay pristine through the winter.

The buds of Christmas rose are quite ornamental

Christmas rose exhibiting its desirable characteristic of outward-facing flowers

Christmas roses have pure white flowers on upright fleshy stems.  The full, rounded blossoms are outward-facing and open flat with a width of 2 to 5″ and a bloom time starting anywhere from November to March, depending on the cultivar.  The flowers often age to shades of pink to red.  They make a very good cut flower.

Established Christmas roses produce an abundance of flowers

The flowers on Christmas roses often age to pink

Christmas roses prefer a well-drained site rich in organic matter.  High or dappled shade is best, and they seem to prefer the edge of beds.  Although they don’t like to be moved, they are easy to divide because their leaves and flowers are on separate stems.  Once they are established, all they need is a yearly mulch of ground leaves.  Christmas roses are usually found in areas with alkaline soil and several sources recommend applying lime, but I have never found this necessary.

The 3 1/2″ wide flowers of ‘Praecox’ Christmas rose in mid-February in my garden

There are several cultivars of Christmas rose that have enhanced the ornamental qualities of this already desirable hellebore.  The straight species blooms in the mid-Atlantic area of the U.S. in early March, after the hybrid hellebores, Helleborus x hybridus.  The Christmas rose cultivar ‘Praecox’ moves the start of bloom time up from March to mid to late January.  ‘Praecox’ also produces an abundance of flowers at a young age unlike the straight species, which can take a while to establish itself.

‘Jacob’ Christmas rose coming into bloom in my garden in November–its flowers are 3″ wide

Two more recent introductions from the Helleborus Gold Collection in Germany have moved the start of Christmas rose’s bloom time to November and extended it to May. ‘HGC Jacob’ begins blooming in my garden in mid-November, while ‘HGC Josef Lemper’ begins around December 1.  Both cultivars continue blooming into May.  For detailed descriptions of ‘Jacob’ and ‘Josef Lemper’, read my article Hellebores for Fall by clicking here.

The 4″ wide flowers of ‘Josef Lemper’ blooming through the snow in my garden in February

Although rarely for sale, I treasure my ‘Potter’s Wheel’ Christmas rose, a cultivar with huge flat, 5″ wide symmetrical flowers.  Although most ‘Potter’s Wheel’ is not true to type because it is seed grown, I acquired mine from Arrowhead Alpines, which vegetatively propagates their plants from the original ‘Potter’s Wheel’ in England.

The huge 5″ wide flowers of authentic ‘Potter’s Wheel’ Christmas rose

I hope that you will consider Christmas rose the next time you add to your hellebore collection.

Please let me know in a comment/reply about your own experiences with growing Christmas roses.

Carolyn

This is part of a series of articles on hellebores, one of the specialties of my nursery.  Here are links to the other articles:

Part One        Hellebores for Fall

Part Two       An Ode to Seed Strain Hellebores

Part Three   Christmas Rose: The Perfect Hellebore

Part Four      Dividing Hybrid Hellebores

Part Five       The Sex Lives of Hellebores

Part Six          Double Hellebores

Part Seven   Cutting Back Hellebores

Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information.  If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.), just click here.

Nursery Happenings: I am currently accepting orders for snowdrops, including  mail orders.  For the catalogue and order information, click here.  I am taking reservations for my March 18 & 19 Hellebore Seminars.  For the brochure and registration information, click here.  I have a few spaces left for Charles Cresson’s Snowdrops and Other Winter Interest Plants Seminars.  For the brochure and registration information, click here.

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86 Responses to “Christmas Rose: The Perfect Hellebore”

  1. I have one of these and love it. The bloom is so much bigger than the Lenten rose. I did not know what I had until bloggers helped me out last year then I remembered I ordered 3 of these several years ago. It took all those years to finally bloom and two of the three plants died. I was not impressed. I am, however, very happy at least one is doing well and looks good for blooms this year and it has finally begun to bloom. I find these guys much more picky than Lenten roses so I tend to recommend and stay with the Lenten roses but it is a lovely plant when it is happy.

    • Tina, Unlike the hybrid hellebores, which only require good drainage, Christmas roses do require more careful sighting. Also there were some bad strains of the straight species around, and I experienced some losses early on myself. The cultivars listed in my article are very reliable. Carolyn

  2. They are beautiful. Glad they are thriving in your garden.

  3. The one in the snow is so courageous. They really are great plants.

  4. Louise Thompson Says:

    I have several of your hellebores, including a “niger”, in my side yard by the fence, so that they’ll be visible only 15′ from our kitchen windows. Late last fall we had a new fence put in, and the fence guys stepped on the hellebores a good bit and dumped clay soil on some of them. I wasn’t able to do much about it then because the holidays took over my life. But this week I found those trampled, half-buried hellebores are doing fine and have big fat bulbs on them. I plan to get more at your first open house, assuming they’re not all gone by the time I get there…

  5. Dear Carolyn, I really appreciate your articles on Hellebores and have been subsequently well educated though the knowledge still slips away through my grey cells! These are my favourite Hellebores (being a traditionalist) and like the way they look up and look out which saves the gardener from having to peer into its beauty on hands and knees – as with other varieties.
    Laurax
    p.s. Thought this was also called the Lenten Rose?

    • Laura, Lenten rose is a common name incorrectly applied to hybrid hellebores, H. x hybridus. One of the eight species that are parents of the hybrid hellebores is H. orientals, the true Lenten rose. Another incorrect common name for hybrid hellebores is orientalis hybrids. I hope to explain this in more detail in my next post. I like outward-facing, but I like nodding too. Carolyn

  6. So many beautiful blooms! I wish I knew more about the one I posted over at “In the Garden” but I have no idea what it is other then a Hellebore. This happens when you purchase from the Bargain Bin at the end of the season. Tags seem to get lost…

  7. I bought three recently (a steal at just under 2$ per pot as the blooms were fading and they were becoming less attractive for indoor use), and they are now perking up from being left outside in the frost. Love them, can’t wait to welcome their flowers next winter!

  8. Dear Carolyn, I ‘discovered’ hellebores less than two years ago, and they are now among my favorite plants. I don’t have a Christmas rose, but you have inspired me to get some. P x

  9. Hellebores really are such a wonderful plant. When I had a shade garden I attempted to get a number of them started. They were perfect for the shady conditions and the deer left them alone which was amazing. The only problem I had was too much shade seemed to induce problems such as a recurring problem with aphids.

    • Marguerite, There may have been something else going on there. I have lots of plants growing in full deciduous shade with absolutely no problems, in fact they thrive. My only hellebores that get aphids are growing in full sun next to a hot stone walk. Carolyn

  10. Mary Silverstein Says:

    When I moved from West Philadelphia to an apartment in Chestnut Hill in August of 2006, I had to be very discriminating about which plants from my large gardens there I could bring. Lucky for me, my apartment complex is not only pet friendly but garden friendly as well. My hellebores and especially my reliable and striking Christmas Rose were among my first choices. In 2009, in moved again within the complex but to a smaller, one-floor unit. Again, the hellebores came along. Finally I can see them again after all that snow; they will get a little “clean-up” today and I’ll see if there are any buds. They seem to have handled the two moves and the piles of snow dumped on them by the blowers very well; I guess they know they belong with me! Mary

  11. Carolyn,
    These are such a lovely form of the hellebore – I hope that they are still in flower in your garden in a couple of weeks! In the UK, the species is sometimes actually in flower by Christmas (hence the name, of course) but it is more usually January. I know Potter’s Wheel, but had not heard of Jacob before. I must look out for it. Jill

  12. I’m sold! Though ‘Potter’s Wheel’ is rather wonderful too. I used to have a Christmas Rose but it died on me – I think the soil was too acidic and heavy. I now have a place I think one would thrive, and it is on my list for the Autumn. After all, a hellebore I don’t need kneepads to photograph? What’s not to love!

  13. I’m in love! The pure white of the blooms is stunning and I do like the leaves too! I don’t have any of these but they are on the list now!

  14. skeeter Says:

    Hey, Guess what? Today I was cleaning out the garden shed and guess what I found? The tag to my unknown Hellebore! I did not remember having a tag as we got it off the bargain bin but I reckon I was wrong…. The tag reads “Green Corsica Hellebore” Helleborus nigercors. I just had to tell you as I thought of you as soon as I spotted that tag!

  15. I don’t have any experience with hellbores but they do look pretty.

  16. Goodness! I’m going to have to ponder adding all these to my Gotta Get list. Shade I can certainly provide (even have alkaline soil from all the limestone). Hope they can stand the hot Texas summers.

  17. H. niger is my favorite Christmas rose but I haven’t gotten one yet because I’ve read they’re pickier than other hellebores. I’m going to get one though ~ they really are eyecatching.

  18. Carolyn,
    Enjoyed your article! Will have to look for ‘Potter’s Wheel’ it is wow! We have a niger that the buds got iced over 5-6 times. The stalks were short but the blooms did great. Recently got 4 new hellebores including 3 of the HGC ones, all very covered in blooms in a gallon pot, never seen such bloomers.

  19. Hello again, I love this post and I thought you would like to know I linked to it on my latest posting. P x

  20. I bought my first hellebore last year at a Master Gardener sale.. it was just labeled “hellebore.” I can’t wait until it blooms to see what variety I have! When I originally created my shade garden, I added several different varieties of Hostas–which the deer appreciated.. Hellebores are supposedly deer resistant and I plan on adding more each year. Thanks for the info, the Christmas Rose is now on my must-have list!

    • Rebecca, We have a very large deer population, and my hellebore growing beds for my nursery are in the heart of deer country. The deer have never touched the hellebores, which are toxic (cause vomiting). Hosta is the number one item on the deer buffet. Carolyn

  21. This is such a fabulous variety of helleborus. A couple of years ago, they were very popular to sell at the flower shop where I worked. Luckily (for me), they all did not sell, and I got to take home the ones that were looking ‘tired’. I kept them alive until April, when I could plant them out in the garden. We were selling Jacob, Silver Moon and Green corsican, all beautiful, and I got (wait for it), 31 to plant!!! Hope for a great show this spring.

    • Thirty-one plants will look stunning. ‘Jacob’ is a true Christmas rose, but the other two are species hybrids where H. niger is one of the parents so they are even more special. I hope to explain all this in my next post. You will have to take photos when you are home. Carolyn

  22. Dear Carolyn, Hello again. In answer to your question on my snowdrop post … Yes, you are right – my snowdrops are Galanthus woronowii. I bought them because they are very early ones and I need ‘early’ here. I would like to plant others, and I see you have them for sale, but I thought snowdrops should be planted in the fall? P x

    • Pam, If you want early snowdrops, there are several earlier varieties. I sell my snowdrops as growing plants in the spring. The only other way to get them in the US is as dried bulbs, and snowdrops do not like to be dried and are often unsuccessful or fail to thrive if planted that way. Also the selection of dried bulbs is pretty limited so if you are a collector growing plants is the way to go. Carolyn

  23. Potter’s Wheel is one niger I am on the look out for here in the UK along with one of the ashwood yellow varieties. Alistair told me to pop over and say hello from Scotland as he told me that you are really interested in snowdrops.

    • Rosie, How nice of Alistair to tell you to drop by. I really enjoyed your post on snowdrops too. It sounds like you and I are intrigued by the same things about them. Evidently, in the UK, it is difficult to find a ‘Potter’s Wheel’ that hasn’t been grown from seed. Carolyn

  24. We don’t have hellebores here i think, they are temperate dwellers. So you have the parent hellebores in your backyard, and in most plants the parents or the natives are the best in terms of resistance. They are so beautiful especially those just starting to unfold. Are they as tall as the snowdrops?

  25. Dear Carolyn, You are so right that, often, in the ever more frantic rush to acquire new hybrids, those stalwarts which perform magnificently without trouble are in danger of being overlooked. I do agree that the ‘Christmas Rose’ Hellebore is very garden worthy and is a reliable performer whatever the weather may throw at it!!

  26. Carolyn, Your photos and great advice add up to another spectacular post! I so wish I lived closer to your nursery! Call me simple but this is my favorite of the Hellebores. Only it cannot bloom in February and is awaiting the heavy blanket of snow to melt away, so that it might peek through the earth. Beautiful post and a great reference for anyone to come back to.

  27. Hi Carolyn, I agree with Carol, I wish I lived near you and your nursery…you are a wealth of information and write great posts!

    • Thanks, Cat. I wish I had all the business I could generate from long distance readers of this blog. Carolyn

      • Hi Carolyn, I just saw your message on Blotanical. These aren’t common at all here in Austin. I saw above where RBell is thinking about adding them to his garden…he has a lot of shade. His will be a good test garden. He lives about 15 miles north of me. I hadn’t really heard of them until this winter when everyone started posting about them…then saw on our Austin gardeners fb page that they spotted some at Lowes and were going to give them a go. Others chimed in that they had killed several…so it sounds hit or miss here. We are zone 8 btw.

      • Cat, I think maybe you should try Corsican hellebore, Helleborus argutifolius, or Majorcan hellebore, H. lividus, as both are from hot Mediterranean climates. However, my Longwood Gardens course book does say that hybrid hellebores, Helleborus x hybridus, the plants bloggers are posting photos of, are good in zone 8. Carolyn

  28. I haven’t tried the Christmas Rose Hellebore, but I might have to find a place for it. So dramatic emerging from the snow!

  29. Such a great article, Carolyn! Thank you! White hellebore is so simple and so elegant! Mine are blooming after being under the snow. Strong!

  30. Lovely. With each post on Hellebores you are slowly convincing me to try hellebores in my garden. And yet, the native gardener in me is saying, just plant more bloodroot or hepaticas. What to do?

    • Patty, I try to to have predominantly native plants in my garden, but I feel a balance is appropriate if the non-native is not invasive. All natives are not equal either: one oak tree can make up for a hundred hellebores and probably provides as much “native” value to the habitat as a hundred hepaticas, which I also love. Carolyn

  31. NANCY H MILLER Says:

    QUESTION ON OLD SUGGESTION. LEAVES LEFT ON PERENNIAL BORDER. SHOULD THEY NOW BE PUT IN COMPOST PILE ,OR LEFT IN BED INDEFINITELY ?

    • Nancy, You can leave them on the beds indefinitely unless you don’t like the way they look or they are extremely matted down and there are delicate plants under them. I leave them to act as mulch and break down into compost. Carolyn

  32. Carolyn, The Christmas rose I had in my garden many years ago and It thrived. I thought a couple of years ago it was time that I had this little beauty in the garden again, unfortunately it didn’t come through the Winter. It was a very young plant and I think that I planted it an a position that received full sun for most of the day. Also I never realised that Helebore had a preference for Alkaline soil, in fact I thought acidic was the thing for them. Always good to be learning.

  33. This is a great post on the Christmas rose! I appreciate the info on the various cultivars. The first hellebores I ever planted were niger, and they are non stop bloomers. I love the pure white. I look forward to your post on the hybrids!

  34. Carolyn, beautiful photos of your hellebores. They must be hard-as-nails hardy because the snow didn’t seem to phase them too much.

  35. Carolyn, your post is fantastic. your “josef Lemper” is beautiful as they are the others. Lula

  36. The Christmas roses are so beautiful. They remind me of the dogwoods blooming in our yard.

    Enjoyed my visit. Thanks for sharing!
    Loretta

  37. where can I purchase the Christmas rose

  38. A couple of years ago, or maybe only one, memory being what it is, I was able to buy as many as 18 hellebore Jacob, some for as much as 75% off after Christmas. I’m noticing that the ones I planted where they get the most sun (it’s still a little shady) are the ones that have, by and large, done the best and bloom the earliest. Of course, it’s been said that in the Pacific NW, where I live, there’s really no such thing as full sun.

  39. Point taken, gladly. What’s your experience w/ Joshua as to sun?

  40. Jim Schimpf Says:

    WERE CAN YOU BUY THE CHRISTMAS ROSE PLANTS

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