Field of Science

Know your genera - Lesson 2: Helleborus

Spring means the return of all your plants, at least those that survived the -20F winter low. While many people think of spring flowers as delicate things, most early flowering plants are tough, and they have to be to deal with spring weather here in Lincolnland.

Lesson 2 in knowing your genera will feature a classic early spring flower, the hellebore, Helleborus. OK, the common name and genus name are not quite identical, but close enough to fit my theme. Helleborus is an old world genus of the buttercup family, and many members of this family are known for their cold hardiness and early flowering. The genus is not known as well in North America and is seldom planted by anyone but the avid gardener, although hellebores are very common in European gardens. Pronunciation is hell-eh-BOH-rus.

The tough leathery leaves over winter and new shoots bearing nodding flowers appear very early in the spring. They are often subjected to over night freezes without apparent harm. One species, Helleborus niger is called the Lenten rose; the flowers open white and turn pink after they are pollinated, so the biology does not quite fit the religious symbolism intended.
Hellebore flowers are among the largest of early spring plants at 7-8 cm in diameter. The flowers have a single whorl of perianth, usually called petals because they are showy, but technically they aren't, and a large number of helically arranged stamens and pistils. After pollination the perianth persists around the developing fruitlets for a long-lasting display. Altogether this is a very typical flower for the buttercup family. The plants are a bit slow to establish and they do not like disturbance, but left along in a semi-shady area, they can provide a great spring display.
Hellebores are toxic so rabbits and deer leave them alone. The Phactor has an extensive list of plants rabbits like in rank order of preference. The data is obtained by caging something the rabbits ate, and then you find out what in your garden they like next best, then you cage that and so on down the list. At times this becomes and expensive experiment.


Larissa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Larissa said...

I love the hellebore. Please remind me when I have a yard of my own that I want to grow some.