Ultimate guide to hellebore plants
Hellebore flowers are an exquisite winter flower that combines radiant, nectar-holding petals with elegant sepals and pendulous blooms in shades of white, green, ruby, or pink. Thanks to their long flowering period, these perennials last deep into spring and they thrive in shadier settings. Not only are they wonderful to look at but Hellebores are also rich with symbolic meaning with numerous references in folklore and mythology.
Available in both evergreen and herbaceous varieties, hellebores feature displays of foliage that are simply stunning and range in colour from dark green to more vibrant lime green. Emerging from this foliage, shoots in either burgundy or green emerge to prop up the attractive blossoms of the hellebore plant. The blossoms typically feature five petal-like sepals and a centre of nectaries, which are essentially modified petals that store the plant’s nectar.
The sepals themselves come in a range of interesting and attractive colours and shades, including yellow, maroon, pink, plum, lavender, white and even blackish purple. Sepals can either be one colour or they can feature particoloured patterns featuring two or more colours.
Hellebore plants are quite compact and are typically 12-18in (30-45cm) in height, although there are a couple of bigger varieties such as H. foetidus and Helleborus argutifolius that can grow to an impressive 3ft (90cm). Hellebores are self-seeding perennials, that's the technical way of saying each year they'll be back with more lovely blooms.
Likes and Dislikes
Although there are different types of hellebore they nearly all prefer evenly moist and fertile soil, although they will grow just as well in most types of soil. Whereas they prefer a lightly shaded position, they can cope in sunnier places just so long as the soil is not allowed to dry out too much.
What hellebores don’t like is extremes. They are a fussy plant that dislikes very dry or very wet soil and they are not suitable to be in direct sunlight as this can cause scorching of the leaves, especially in the summer.
Little known fact
Some hellebores are known as Lenten or Christmas roses, which is because they flower from late winter through to spring. However, hellebores are not related to roses at all, instead, they are a part of the buttercup family.
Hellebore symbolism and etymology
It is thought that hellebores got their name from the ancient Greek word helléboros, which legend has it is a portmanteau of the Greek words heleîn, which means to injure, and borá an ancient Greek word for food. It has been suggested that this name is a reference to the poisonous nature of the hellebore plant.
When it comes to symbolism and cultural significance the modern traditions associated with flower symbolism have been kind to the hellebore plant. Nowadays the hellebore plant has strong associations with serenity, peace, and tranquillity, but this has not always been the case. In Victorian times the flowers of the hellebore plant signified delirium, and some cultures today still see the flowers as representing stress, anxiety, and scandal.
Along with the traditional symbolic meanings, the colour of the hellebore flower carries its own unique symbolism.
- White hellebores represent, sympathy, purity, and innocence
- Red flowers denote love and passion
- Pink flowers signify affection, femininity, and gentleness
- Green flowers embody good fortune, prosperity, health, and rebirth
- Grey flowers exemplify strength and sophistication
- Blue flowers characterise hope, desire, and love
- Dark purply black represents mourning, power, and mystery
- Yellow equals joy and friendship
- Orange-coloured flowers denote passion, excitement, and enthusiasm
- Purple hellebores relate to royalty and successful endeavours
So, as you can see, there are many different meanings for each hellebore flower colour, which is why it is one of the most popular flowers, especially for cut flowers and bouquets that make an excellent gift, especially at Christmas time.
The most popular varieties of hellebore plant
With over 20 different species of hellebore plant and many more subspecies it can be a bit daunting to know where to start if you have never purchased one before, so below are the details of four of the most popular types of hellebore flowers.
The Corsican hellebore (Helleborus argutifolius) - This variety of hellebore features salient blue-green foliage, bright green stamens and light-green blossoms that flourish in clusters of numerous flowers from late winter to early summer.
The Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) – Known as the Christmas rose due to its late bloom around Christmastime, this variety of hellebore feature stunning golden sepals and snowy white flowers that are perfect for the yuletide.
The Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis) – This late bloomer got its name as it doesn’t bloom until Lent and is popular due to the variety of colours of its blooms that range from white to purply black. However, finding true Lenten rose hellebore can be difficult as they are a species that hybridises easily and rapidly, especially when grown in gardens.
The Stinking Hellebore (Helleborus foetidus) – Despite its quirky and somewhat off-putting name, the stinking hellebore is one of the most pleasant varieties of hellebore to grow. The flowers it produces are larger than other varieties of hellebore and are usually a yellow-green colour with petals that are edged in crimson. The name of this variety was given to it due to the pungent aroma it emits when the foliage is rubbed or crushed.
Watering a Hellebore
Although the hellebore does like some moisture it needs to be planted in well-draining soil otherwise your plant will become susceptible to root rot if it is encased in wet soil for long periods. If you notice the leaves of the hellebore wilting then that is the time to water.
How to Water Hellebore
- Check the moisture level of the soil – Poke your thumb into the soil about an inch deep, if it feels dry then it is time to give your hellebore a drink.
- Add the water – Gently moisten the soil around the base of the plant with water from a small watering can until the soil is nicely moistened.
- Repeat – But not too often. Regularly check the moisture content of the soil by going back to step one on a regular basis.
- Avoid over-watering as this can cause significant damage to the roots. - Water only if the soil is dry about 1 inch below the surface. - Avoid wetting the leaves.
- Water only if the soil is dry about 1 inch below the surface.
- Avoid wetting the leaves.
Most hellebore varieties will grow with minimal care so long as you keep nearby free of weeds and dead leaves. Hellebores are hungry little blighters and will grow better when fed with generous handfuls of fish, bone, and blood fertiliser during March and again in September. To achieve the best results and if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, just sprinkle the fertiliser around the base of the plant and lightly work it into the surface of the soil.
Yes. Hellebores can be great as cut flowers so long as they are not positioned in direct sunlight and very warm spots. You can extend the life of cut hellebore flowers by simply making a small incision in the side of the stems. Plus, the blooms can be placed in a bowl of water, so they are floating on the surface like water lilies, which make a beautiful centrepiece for your table.
Some varieties of hellebore such as the Christmas Rose or White Christmas varieties have been bred especially for display in a living room during the winter months. To ensure longevity, place them in a cool spot away from direct sunlight and water them regularly but avoid overwatering. In the run-up to Christmas, florists often stock several varieties of hellebore, especially those that have large blooms and exemplary vase life.
Yes. Unfortunately, all parts of the hellebore plant are toxic in different ways, and for this reason, it is vital that you handle hellebores with caution, and to keep them out of range of inquisitive children and animals. The sap of the plant can induce an allergic contact reaction in sensitive individuals, so you should always wear gloves when handling the plant.
Most varieties of hellebores typically bloom between late November and April, and their blooms often stay around for a month or a bit longer.
No. They are perennial plants that will regrow year after year but the plant only blooms once a year.