“Those who dig it up pray to Apollo and Asclepias by observing the eagle’s flight. They say that the bird’s flight is dangerous, for it would bring death if it saw hellebore being dug!” Dioscorides, the Greek physician, 1st century A.D.
Hellebore niger The Christmas Rose
The flowers of H. niger are generally white, and blossom as early as December in some zones, which accounts for its other name, the Christmas rose. The fact that the plant could flower so beautifully even in the depths of winter made people think that it must have special powers. It became a plant known for protection, and was often planted by doorways to keep evil spirits away.
Hellebore has also been used to drive away melancholy and unexplained feelings that something bad was about to happen, or that something is terribly wrong, but one doesn’t know what it is. A pot of blooming hellebores was brought into the room to drive those unpleasant thoughts away, and to change the atmosphere into one of calm.
hellebore a ruby toned orientalis
H. orientalis or Lenton Rose is the other familiar member of the family, and the kind that I grow. In past times, the flowers of this hellebore were small, drooping downward, and often muddy white or washed out colors. Breeders have been selecting and cross-breeding over the decades to improve the flower size, range of colors, and to improve the flower angle so it can be seen more easily. Today’s hellebores are a delight to behold. Those in my garden begin blooming in March, and the flowers are usually still visible in July! Plus the leathery, deep green foliage is tough, deer resistant, and lasts nearly year-round. It has become one of my favorite plants for deep shade. I started with the plugs of a mixed variety called “Royal Heritage.” I couldn’t wait for them to start blooming to see what colors would appear. I planted them in clumps in the Enchanted Forest, and in a protected, deeply shaded spot on the north side of my gazebo. In their second late winter, I found white blooms, pink blooms, white blooms with pinkish spots, rose blooms, and a few deeper burgundy ones. I let them stay on the plants, and was delighted the following spring when an abundance of seedlings began to appear under the adult plants. These were quickly potted, or moved to other spots in the shade garden. These plants are easy to grow, provide so much interest, and are seemingly indestructible. Needless to say, I plan to increase the number of hellebores in my gardens.