Hellebores, Part II (page 3)

Hellebores, Part II (page 3)

Marge Talt's Series on Hellebores
by Marge Talt (mtalt(at)clark.net)

Helleborus argutifolius

Hailing from Corsica and Sardinia, the name for this hellebore has bounced from H. argutifolius to H. corsicus (still sometimes used, albeit incorrectly), to H. lividus subspecies corsicus and landed back at H. argutifolius...at least for now. Who knows what thrills the taxonomists have in store for us tomorrow?

I'm the proud parent of a flat full of seedlings, now reaching the pricking out stage. I'm eagerly looking forward to adding these statuesque plants to my garden. This is one hellebore that needs some sun to stand tall; they will flop in shade. It's sometimes a good idea to stake them, even in sun, if you have windy site or get heavy snow cover, so that their stems aren't broken. Their flowers, although similar in color to H. foetidus are much larger, reaching one to two inches across ( 2.5 - 5 cm). Leaves are quite different from H. foetidus, having three large, spined leaflets. Stems can reach three to four feet ( 90 cm - 1.2 m) tall and a happy plant can be four feet (1.2 m) across).


Scrub vegetation, where climax forest has been destroyed in the Mediterranean region; generally rather dense, thorny, often aromatic shrubs.

Maquis Scrub vegetation, where climax forest has been destroyed in the Mediterranean region; generally rather dense, thorny, often aromatic shrubs. Adaptable plants, in the wild, they are found in a wide range of habitats, from shoreline to woods and the maquis, but best performance will be in sun (light shade in hot areas) in rich, well-drained soil.

This one is not quite as hardy as most; it's rated to USDA zone 6. It will also seed around as prolifically as H. foetidus, but, since it's also fairly short-lived, the seedlings provide a ready made replacement. If you don't want them, cut off the flowers before they go to seed.

Helleborus niger

Helleborus nigerThe Christmas Rose seldom flowers at Christmas time, but it's probably one of the best known hellebores, although not always the easiest to please, as I've found out to my sorrow. It doesn't like acid soil, which is what I've got, and I didn't know enough to add lime to the mix. I'll know better next time. Flowers are generally white with a green eye, although they can often have pink stained backs to the sepals and a pink form has been found in the wild by Will McLewin, who sells plants and seeds from it.

When in full spate, this is one of the showiest of hellebores with evergreen foliage and large, flat flowers blooming from January on to April. They make clumps about nine to twelve inches high (23 - 30 cm). It's also received an AGM, so I should be able to grow it if I give it the limy, humus-rich soil it likes in dappled shade, and make sure it doesn't dry out. Unlike the x hybridus varieties, this one should be moved in early spring. It won't like it any better than most of the genera, but it can be done.

h. niger subsp. macranthusThere are two subspecies: H. niger subsp. niger and H. niger subsp. macranthus. The latter (shown in this photo) has larger flowers and finely toothed leaves. In the wild, subsp. niger is found in mountains from the Swiss Alps, southern Germany and Austria, through Slovenia and into Croatia and northern Italy, while subsp. macranthus is only found in Italy and some places in Slovenia. They are generally found in woodlands, but sometimes out on more open slopes. I have read, however, that when found in open positions, it does not necessarily mean that hellebores like sun because grasses and other native plants grow up around them, providing shade in summer.

Numerous varieties have been named, but most won't be found in the US and many of the older ones, such as 'Potter's Wheel', have degenerated from the original because of being raised from seed not properly rogued. 'Blackthorn Strain' is supposedly an excellent seed strain with tall dark stems and pink buds opening almost white, turning pink as they age. This is available, this side of the pond, from Heronswood who also offer Will McLewin's pinkish strain as well as several named varieties of H. foetidus. Several online nurseries offer various hellebores, but the Heronswood list is the most extensive I've found.

So many hellebores! I'm out of space and barely started. Next time I've got lots of lovely photos to share with you of the x hybridus group. See ya' later.

Photo Credits

Photographs kindly lent to me by others for this article belong to them. Do not use them without obtaining permission!

  • Pans of seedlings and self-sown H. argutifolius seedlings, H. argutifolius, copyright Rolf van de Pavert. Rolf owns the copyright to these pictures and they should not be used without his permission.
  • Helleborus niger and its subsp. macranthus copyright John Dudley, proprietor of Elizabeth Town Nursery, in Deloraine, Northern Tasmania.
  • All other photographs taken by Marge in her garden and at the AHS River Farms garden.

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