Helleborus niger is a very distinct species, immediately recognisable and rarely confused with others, it is the best known and certainly the showiest of the species hellebores
The Christmas Rose it is one of the first plants to bloom producing a succession of delicate white/off white flowers. The blooms can, theoretically open by the end of December, in gardens however, the flowers generally appear from January to March, occasionally earlier, though in the wild plants may still be flowering in June in some high, cold areas. The German name of Schneerose (snow rose) is perhaps more appropriate.
The blossoms are a study in elegance and purity, with five petals that seem to be moulded out of white wax, arrayed around a boss of showy golden stamens. Unlike the drooping flowers of other species, those of H. niger face squarely outward, so you don't have to lie on your back under the plant to see the faces of the blossoms.
Each blossom lasts for several weeks, going through an aging process that is to be envied by us women. A couple of weeks after opening, the backs of the petals near the calyx become blushed with the most delicate shade of pink. This colour deepens and the petals thicken, turning slowly green as the seeds ripen in the centre of the flower.
This beautiful hellebore is smaller and more compact than its relatives. The leaves form a beautiful clump to around 30cm (12in) wide that is evergreen if protected from winter wind and its foliage stays neater throughout the year.
It is an easy plant to grow in light shade in most soils and is good for massing under trees. A must for any garden, and such a welcome sight when the snow thaws to see something in bloom!
- Awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit
Helleborus niger was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit (AGM) in 1993.
Sowing: Sow seeds immediately upon receipt, at any time of year.
Hellebore seeds are collected in early summer. If they are planted in the first few months, they will germinate quickly in around 30 days. Once the weather starts to get cold in autumn, they will go dormant and delay germination until the weather warms up in the spring and conditions are more favourable.
Text books quote germination as ‘irregular’ and advise 30 to 545 days, in my experience 30 to 180 days is usual, dependent on the time of year that they are planted.
Sow in moist John Innes seed compost or something similar, place each container in a polythene bag or place a plastic lid onto the container. Place in a cold greenhouse or cold frame. The compost should be kept moist but not wet at all times.
Some of the seeds will germinate straight away, some during the spring and summer, any remaining seeds may lay dormant until the following spring. If any seeds do not germinate in the spring keep them in cool moist conditions throughout the summer.
As each seed germinates transplant it almost immediately into its own 7.5cm (3in) pot to grow on. These strong plants need more nutrients and water than small cells can provide. Keep seedlings in a well lit place, but out of direct sun.
Gradually acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 10 to 15 days before planting out, space 30cm (12in) apart.
Seeds can be left to go through the seasons naturally or germination hastened by “Stratifying” (imitating the seasons)
Soak and sow seeds as above and leave for six weeks. Transplant any seedlings that have germinated. After 6 weeks chill the remaining seeds: put the tray into the refrigerator at -4°C to +4°C (24-39°F), or somewhere with a similar temperature for six to eight weeks. Then remove to around 10°C (50°F)
Prick out each seedling as it becomes large enough to handle, transplant into 7.5cm (3in) pots or trays. Gradually acclimatise to outdoor conditions for 10 to 15 days before planting out, space 30cm (12in) apart.
If your soil is high in organic matter, and has a fairly good water holding capacity, then Hellebores will grow wonderfully in your garden. Hellebores have a deep growing root system and they will benefit greatly if the area is prepared before planting. Double digging the area (digging out one shovel depth of soil, and then digging up the second layer of soil, and then putting the top layer back on and digging it all together) with additional organic matter is of great advantage. Add some sharp sand if your soil is especially heavy and sticky.
Hellebores prefer a neutral to alkaline soil Ph (they will grow in a slightly acidic Ph soil too). Mushroom compost or well decomposed garden compost is good as an additive.
Hellebores are Mediterranean plants, and they prefer moist but well drained soil, a period of drying our between watering is of great benefit to good overall growth.
Cut down flowers as they are over to encourage basal growth or leave to set seed. Once the plant has flowered and new foliage shows signs of emerging, you can cut away the old leaves.
Hellebores will set seed with new plants coming up around the main plant. Seedlings are easy to transplant to other parts of the garden.
Plants resent root disturbance and are slow to re-establish when divided and are best left undisturbed for 6 to 7 years before being divided. Should you ever have to move a plant, dig a ball of earth around its roots as you would for a shrub.
Do not use chemical fertilisers as it is extremely sensitive to them and burns easily. Stick to dressing with compost or aged manure in the autumn.
Cottage/Informal Garden, Flower Arranging, Flowers Borders and Beds or Under-planting roses and shrubs.
As a cut flower, these flowers float on water and will stay fresh for many days. Take care when handling the plant as it may cause skin irritation or allergic reaction.
A genus of some 15 species native mostly to southern Europe. Hellebous niger is a native of central and eastern Europe and especially the Balkans. It is found mainly in high altitude woodlands that are blanketed by snow in winter.
To the botanist the features which distinguish H. niger from other species are the undivided bracts, the noticeably prominent elaiosome (see below) on the seeds and the smooth pollen grains.
To the gardener the large, pure white, waxy flowers carried singly on stiff upright stems and the dark, leathery, almost untoothed foliage make it easily distinguishable.
Elaiosomes (From the Greek élaion meaning "oil" and sóma meaning "body") are fleshy structures that are attached to the seeds of many plant species. The elaiosome is rich in lipids and proteins, and may be variously shaped. Many plants have elaiosomes to attract ants, which take the seed to their nest and feed the elaiosome to their larvae.
After the larvae have consumed the elaiosome, the ants take the seed to their waste disposal area, which is rich in nutrients from the ant frass and dead bodies, where the seeds germinate. This type of seed dispersal is termed myrmecochory from the Greek "ant" (myrmex) and "dispersal" (kore). This type of symbiotic relationship appears to be mutualistic, as the plant benefits because its seeds are dispersed to favourable germination sites, and also because it is planted (carried underground) by the ants.
The genus name Hellebore is from the Greek helleboros., 'elein' meaning to injure, and 'bora' meaning food. This species and the other members of this genus are highly toxic. It is one of the four classic poisons, together with nightshade, hemlock, and aconite.
Despite the species name “niger” meaning black, it bears an abundance of pure white flowers. The name refers to the colour of the roots; it was applied in 1753, although the plant had previously been long cultivated in the UK even then.
Helleborus niger is commonly called the Christmas rose, an old legend says that it sprouted in the snow from the tears of a young girl who had no gift to give the Christ child in Bethlehem.
Its most popular common names are the Lenten or Christmas Rose which refer to its blooming period. Other common names include Clove-tongue, St Agnes' Rose, Christmas Plant, Christopher's Herb, Christ's Herb, Bear's Foot, Brumal Rose.
Helleborus are member of the genus Ranunculaceae, the Buttercup family.
- Awarded the RHS Award of Garden Merit
- Additional Information
Packet Size 200mg Average Seed Count 20 Seeds Family Ranunculaceae Genus Helleborus Species niger Synonym Helleborus niger subsp. niger Common Name Christmas Rose, Christmas Hellebore, Black Hellebore Other Common Names Lenten Rose Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers White / off White flowers Natural Flower Time Mid Winter – Late Spring Foliage Evergreen. Height 30cm (12in) Spread 22 to 30cm (9-12in) Spacing Space 30cm (12in) apart. Position Sun to Partial Shade Soil Prefers rich, moist but well drained soil Time to Sow Sow seeds immediately upon receipt, at any time of year. Notes Please take care when handling the plant
as the sap may cause skin irritation or allergic reaction.