Archive for species hellebores

Species Hellebores for 2012

Posted in evergreen, hellebores, Shade Perennials, winter interest with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 8, 2012 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

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  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

‘Josef Lemper’ Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, has very large flowers and blooms from November into May depending on the weather.

In my post New Hellebores for 2012, I profiled all the exciting new hybrid hellebores that I am offering this spring.  If you haven’t read it, there are some gorgeous photos.  Now I want to show you the species hellebores that are available at my nursery this year.  In a third post, I will describe what I call the “species crosses” that you can add to your garden this spring.

The Christmas rose ‘Jacob’ is loaded with flowers from November through late spring.

In The Sex Lives of Hellebores, I described the difference between hybrid hellebores, the subject of my February 2012 new hellebore post, and the roughly 15 types of species hellebores.  I sell most of the species by special order, but here I want to profile the five that I will be featuring this year.  My favorite is Christmas rose, Helleborus niger.  Despite its name, I used to have to wait until March to view its lovely pure white flowers.  With the introduction of the cultivars ‘Josef Lemper’ and ‘Jacob’, which reliably start blooming in November, you can now have Christmas roses blooming for Christmas.

Christmas rose flowers age to a lovely pink: ‘Jacob’ with fall-blooming camellia ‘Winter’s Joy’.

Christmas roses have many desirable attributes which I described at length in Christmas Rose: The Perfect Hellebore.  Their outward facing, pure white flowers are framed by lovely blue-green leaves that stay ornamental through winter.  They are deer resistant like hybrid hellebores but are smaller and have a more refined look than the hybrids.  For more information on ‘Jacob’ and ‘Josef Lemper’, see
Hellebores for Fall.

Double Christmas rose, Helleborus niger ‘Double Fantasy’

I am very excited to be able to offer ‘Double Fantasy’, a fully double Christmas rose developed through tissue culture by a nursery in Japan.  Before it was introduced in 2011, I had only seen one double (in Charles Cresson’s garden), and double Christmas roses were not available for sale.  Its flowers are magical.

Fragrant hellebore, Helleborus odorus

The next three species, H. odorus, H. purpurascens, and H. viridis, were all profiled in depth in The Sex Lives of Hellebores because they are all parents of the hybrid hellebores.  However, they are gardenworthy in their own right and have attributes the hybrids don’t have.  I am a big fan of green flowers, and fragrant hellebore, H. odorus, has striking yellow-green flowers with a delicious scent that is pervading my garden right now.  It looks especially nice when grown with dark purple hybrids.

flower of fragrant hellebore

Fragrant hellebore (right) with ‘Blue Lady’ hybrid hellebore

flower of Helleborus purpurascens

Helleborus purpurascens, which has no handy common name, is another one of my favorites.  The colors mixed in its flowers, blue-green and a silvery, smoky purple, have not been duplicated in any of the hybrid flowers.  I would also grow it just for its circular, filigreed leaves:

Helleborus purpurascens

outside of H. purpurascens flower

Green hellebore, H. viridis, has the purest green flowers of almost any plant I grow.  It is also shorter and more compact than the hybrid hellebores and the other species.  It too looks great with dark purple to black flowers, but my favorite combination features green hellebore with a drift of the true blue flowers of brunnera—heaven:

Green hellebore, H. viridis

flower of green hellebore

The final species that I will be offering this spring is bearsfoot hellebore, H. foetidus.  I profiled this plant in detail in Hellebores for Fall.  Bearsfoot has the most ornamental leaves of any hellebore, and they are truly wintergreen coming through ice and snow looking pristine.  Bearsfoot forms its lovely chartreuse buds in the fall.  The flowers open in winter and remain ornamental until it gets hot.  It is also taller than other hellebores, reaching two feet or more and giving it the stature of a small shrub:

Bearsfoot hellebore, H. foetidus

unusual, evergreen leaves of bearsfoot hellebore

When I started this post, I thought I would be able to fit the seven species above plus the five “species crosses” I will also be selling this spring.  You know me though: I get excited about hellebores.  By the time I included all the photos I wanted, the post was long enough.  Look for a third post with some exciting crosses, all with Christmas rose as a parent.


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Nursery Happenings: My Hellebore Extravaganza open house sale is Saturday, March 24, from 10 am to 3 pm.  The 2012 Hellebore Seminars are sold out.  To view the 2012 Snowdrop Catalogue, click here.  Snowdrops are still available for pick  up at the nursery, but mail order is closed.

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The Sex Lives of Hellebores

Posted in hellebores, winter interest with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 26, 2011 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

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  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 green halo in this beautiful hybrid hellebore flower probably results from the influence of H. torquatus, which is characterized by a pale collar around the center of the flower.

Hybrid hellebores, Helleborus x hybridus (the Royal Horticultural Society approved name, previously called Lenten rose or Orientalis hybrids), are the most commonly available hellebores with the large, showy, nodding flowers in an amazing range of colors (click here and here to see photos).  In my article An Ode to Seed Strain Hellebores, I explained my fascination with and love of the diversity found in hybrid hellebores .

I described how, unless tissue cultured, you can’t be sure what a hybrid hellebore  flower will look like unless it is in bloom.  But I pointed out that to me that is the magic of hybrid hellebores: each plant is a unique individual, with the potential for inheriting genetic material from any of the 9 species hellebores that could be its parents.  In this article, I want to explain exactly where hybrid hellebores come from and introduce you to their parents.  If you want to skip the technical discussion, photos of the parent species are at the end of the article.  I won’t be insulted.

The leaves of ‘Metallic Blue Lady’ hybrid hellebore come out a deep glossy purple showing the influence of H. atrorubens, which can have the same attribute.

The genus Helleborus contains between 12 and 21 species, depending on who is counting, but I usually stick with the 15 described by Brian Mathew, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in his authoritative work Hellebores (Alpine Garden Society 1989).  Six of these species are not relevant to our discussion here.  The other nine species are the parents of hybrid hellebores.  They are H. atrorubens, H. cyclophyllus, H. dumetorum, H. mulitifidus, H. odorus, H. orientalis, H. purpurascens, H. torquatus, and H. viridis.

These nine hellebore species have crossed and re-crossed naturally and through human intervention by hellebore breeders  over hundreds of years to produce hybrid hellebores.  That is why hybrid hellebores are so variable: they can have the characteristics of any of these nine species in their background in infinite combinations.  And it is impossible to be sure which species a particular hybrid hellebore has in its genetic makeup, although flower and leaf characteristics can often lead one to speculate that a particular parent might be predominant (see two photos above).

The species themselves are also incredibly variable in the wild, often freely crossing  with each other,  making them difficult to identify.  For a discussion of just how variable, read Chapter 3 in Hellebores: A Comprehensive Guide by J. Tyler and C. Burrell (Timber Press 2006).

This very beautiful but clearly hybrid hellebore was sold to me as H. purpurascens.

I was a hellebore fanatic long before I became a galanthophile (see my article Snowdrops: Further Confessions of a Galanthophile), and over the years I have collected, grown, and, in some cases, sold to my customers all 15 species, which are all very beautiful in their own right.  In addition, I have attempted to acquire them from as many different sources as possible in order to get plants that I consider the most true to type.   Many of my plants were grown from seeds collected in the wild by Will McLewin of Phedar Nursery in the U.K. You would be amazed at what I have been sold as species hellebores (see photos above and below).

These four plants were all sold to me as H. atrorubens.

So over the years, through trial and error, I have developed what I jokingly call the “U.S. National Species Hellebore Collection”, and I present them to you.  But please remember that I have never actually seen these plants in the wild.

Helleborus cyclophyllus

Helleborus cyclophyllus is native to the open dry hillsides and woods of Greece,  Albania, the former Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria.  Its name means with leaves in a circle.  It is quite fragrant and not ornamentally distinct from H. odorus,  fragrant hellebore.  All the chartreuse-flowered species hellebores look gorgeous in combination with red- and purple-flowered hybrids.

Helleborus atrorubens

Helleborus atrorubens is native to dry hillsides and woodland margins of the former Yugoslavia.  Its name means dark red, and it gives purple and red colors to hybrid hellebores.  It can also contribute the desirable attribute of leaves that emerge  dark purple.

Helleborus dumetorum

Helleborus dumetorum is native to the mountainous woods and thickets of Austria, Romania, the former Yugoslavia, and Hungary.  Its name means of thickets and hedgerows.  At 8 to 12″ (all the others are 12 to 20″), it is the smallest hellebore species and looks like a miniature.  Its multiple skinny leaflets give it a feathery appearance.

Helleborus purpurascens

Helleborus purpurascens is native to light woodlands and meadows throughout eastern Europe.  Its name means purplish, and it usually doesn’t exceed 12″ tall.  It is my favorite of the species both for its gorgeous and unusual flowers and its circular, filigreed leaves.  It must be more stable in the wild because every plant I have acquired looks similar to the photos above.

Helleborus odorus (Fragrant Hellebore)

Helleborus odorus is native to woodland margins and thickets of Hungary, Romania, and the former Yugoslavia.  Its name means fragrant, and it is one of the more commonly grown species.  On warm days, H. odorus and H. cyclophyllus perfume my whole species hellebore area.  I have never noticed that this trait was passed on to any hybrid flower.  As noted above, it is not ornamentally distinct from H. cyclophyllus.

Helleborus torquatus

Helleborus torquatus is native to light deciduous woods and clay soil of the  former Yugoslavia.  Its name means with a collar, referring to the pale ring around the neck of the flower, which you can see in the photo above.   Its leaves have 15 to 25 long tapering segments giving the whole plant a unique spidery look.   It produces double flowers in the wild and also contributes purple and blue color and metallic highlights to the hybrids.  It is the rarest of the species in this article, and I have only been able to acquire it from one source.

Helleborus viridis (Green Hellebore)

Helleborus viridis is unusual culturally and geographically because it is native to the moist deciduous woods and meadows and clay soil of western Europe and the U.K.  Most of these species hellebores require well-drained soil and are native to eastern Europe.  Its name means green, and its flowers are certainly the best green of the species.  I find them quite beautiful.

Helleborus orientalis (Lenten Rose)

There are three subspecies of Helleborus orientalis, the Lenten rose.  The photos above are of  a plant sold to me as H. orientalis subsp. abchasicus.  However, because of the green carpels and spotted flowers, I am inclined to think it is subsp. guttatus. The seed came from well known hellebore expert Will McLewin.  It is native to open fields as well as scrub and woodlands of the Caucasus Mountains where Europe meets Asia, which explains its name meaning of the Orient. Most hybrid hellebores are derived at least in part from H. orientalis, which is why they were originally called Orientalis hybrids.

Helleborus multifidus

Helleborus multifidus is native to the deciduous woods and open scrubland of Italy, the former Yugoslavia, and Albania.  Its name means much divided, referring to its beautiful frilly leaves.  I grow three of its four subspecies, which I treasure for their foliage, and two are pictured below.

Helleborus multifidus subsp. bocconei is a variant from central and southern Italy and Sicily named for a Sicilian botanist.  It is said to be a better garden plant than the other subspecies and certainly makes a gorgeous lacy statement in my gardens.

Helleborus multifidus subsp. hercegovinus is native to Bosnia and Herzegovina.  It is definitely harder to grow but well worth the effort for its extraordinary leaves, which can be divided into 100 leaflets.

I hope you have enjoyed my photo gallery with short descriptions for each of the nine hybrid hellebore parents.  I have spared you many details that interest me as a collector.  I felt that this was enough to take in in one article.  I should probably also mention that none of the photos above picture the true leaves of the plants, which come out after the flowers.  What you are seeing above are the bracts, which are part of the flower stem and often reflect the leaf characteristics.  If readers are truly interested, I could photograph the leaves, which in many cases are extraordinary, for a later article.

I would really appreciate reader feedback on your experiences with these species, and I would especially like to know if you think any of them are mislabeled and why.


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.), click here.

Nursery Happenings: I sell several of the species hellebores pictured above so if you are interested send me an email (no mail order).  My next nursery event is Bulb and Native Wildflower Day on April 9 from 10 am to 2 pm.

Thanks from Tara:

In my post I Need Your Help, I asked you to send cards to Tara, the five-year-old daughter of Kartik whom I profiled inNew Year’s Resolution to Edit the Garden. Tara had recently been diagnosed with leukemia.  As a result of your generosity, Tara received cards from all over the world and has sent you one in return.

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