- Plan Your Visit
- Our Gardens
- Research & Conservation
- Gardening Resources
- Get Involved
A late rose for Christmas? (Helleborus niger)
By Panayoti Kelaidis, Senior Curator & Director of Outreach on Jan 26, 2012
There are a number of plants that are clever enough to bloom during the winter months: none more predictably, nor beautifully, however, than the ill-named Christmas rose (Helleborus niger). There are a few selections of this species that often begin to bloom in October or November most years, and yes, these may happen to be in bloom for Christmas. But invariably by January, I always have a few of these huge, waxy white flowers opening in my home garden. Mike Kintgen reports that they are blooming in the Rock Alpine Garden right now, and likely in one of the many other gardens where these are planted at Denver Botanic Gardens.
- Helleborus niger at Denver Botanic Gardens Waring House, March 2011
So why not call these "New Year Roses"? a more apt and accurate name...oh well. Fat chance. Christmas has a stranglehold on the name. There is a whole industry in Europe cranking out Christmas cards with paintings of these lovely plants. I'm sure there have been tens of thousands of these over the years. I love the thick, leathery leaves, with their lyrate pattern almost as much as their blooms. The foliage makes a wonderful evergreen fountain of color year around, and make a graceful setting for these enormous flowers. I have seen these nearly 3" across in some forms: the petals are thick and waxy and simply gorgeous. Some age a deep rose red. It will bloom through thick or thin (and we are sure to have some very cold weather still) for the next three months: a marathoner if there ever was one!
There is an enormous amount written about this plant in books, magazines and the web: worth browsing. It has accumulated great herbal lore (don't try it, though: it's very poisonous!), and a great deal of myth. I finish by saying that it loves Colorado, and should be planted by everyone here. Give it a good loam, enriched with a bit of humus in part shade. Don't let it dry out too much (especially the first year as it establishes). Once established in the right spot, this is quite tough, even somewhat xeric and likely to last in the garden for the rest of your life! (You can't say this about many herbaceous plants)...There are a wealth of hybrids of Christmas rose becoming available, not to mention a veritable revolution occuring with Lenten Roses: these, however, are mere distractions and side shows as far as I'm concerned: this is the Queen flower of winter. Let us bow down in wonder and worship! (I do anyway).
Category:At the Gardens