Myth has it that an angel gave a Christmas rose to a young shepherdess who had no present for the infant Jesus. The genus is an ancient Greek name for the plant. The entire plant is deadly poisonous.
Description of Christmas rose, lenten rose, hellebore: Hellebores are aristocrats of the winter and early spring garden. Beautiful nodding saucer-shape flowers grace the stems when few plants brave the elements. The leathery foliage is durable and attractive throughout the summer and winter seasons. The flowers consist of 5 showy petallike sepals surrounded by leafy bracts. Flowers may be flat with many fuzzy stamens or tubelike with the stamens concealed. The leathery sepals persist for over a month, well after the seed capsules begin to form. Ease of care: Easy.
: Hellebores require a good, deep, well-drained soil with plenty of humus and partial shade. When temperatures fall below 15 degrees Fahrenheit, blooming is usually put off until the weather warms. At low temperatures, some protection is needed.
: By division or by seed.
: The foliage alone is worth growing and makes an excellent ground cover. Flowers are good for cutting, and the plants can be grown in pots or in a greenhouse.
Christmas rose, lenten rose, hellebore related species: Helleborus niger, or the true Christmas rose, bears white or pinkish-green flowers, and blooms in late fall, winter, or early spring depending on the climate. Although hardy in USDA Zone 4, winters often make growing difficult. Helleborus argutifolius, Corsican hellebore, is a coarse shrubby plant with thick erect stems and glossy, toothed, three-lobe evergreen leaves and nodding, bowl-shape green flowers in early spring.
Janet Starnes and Pacific Frost are two variegated selections that lack the vigor of the species, especially where summers are humid. A lovely hybrid with the Christmas rose, H. x nigercors is coveted for its stout stems crowned with up to thirty outfacing, creamy white to soft green flowers. Blackthorn Strain is an outstanding selection. H. x sternii excels in its stiff, mottled to fully silver foliage and its spreading trusses of soft green to creamy rose flowers. Boughton Beauty, Blackthorn, and Pine Knot are a few good strains.
H. foetidus, stinking hellebore, has deep green spidery leaves and nodding, tubelike green flowers with a red-brown edge. Wester Flisk features red stems and red-tinged petioles set off by gray-green leaves. H. odorus is a must for collectors and enthusiastic gardeners. The 11/2- to 2-inch luminescent green flowers vary in fragrance from sweet to slightly musty.
Christmas rose, lenten rose, hellebore related varieties: Most of the best hybrids available in America today are seed strains developed from old named varieties. Seed strains now offer excellent flower color and form. A few good strains are Lady, Picadilly, and Royal Heritage, as well as doubles such as Party Dress and the Brandywine and Pine Knot strains of singles and doubles.
Scientific name for Christmas rose, lenten rose, hellebore: Helleborus x hybrids