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February 12, 2010 | Panayoti Kelaidis, Senior Curator & Director of Outreach

Christmas rose (Helleborus niger)

"Midwinter rose" or "winter rose" would be a much better name. Mike Kintgen noted that there was one blooming at Christmas, but really, only now are they coming into their own.
What would they do in Europe without these winter wonders to decorate Chrismas cards? They are as ubiquitous there as Edelweiss and Gentians as floral ornamentation in gift shop bric-a-brac and on post cards throughout central Europe, although Helleborus is really a Mediterranean genus, occurring in greatest abundance within a hundred miles or so of the sea itself. It's all the more surprising that so many hellebores thrive in Colorado (only one or two species are tender here): many are actually xeric: thriving with almost no supplemental irrigation if sited in the right kind of soil and shade condition. All are precocious, to say the least.
But the winter hellebore has to be the queen of the genus for many reasons: it is always the first (or earliest) to bloom, and unquestionably the hardiest since it climbs to tree line in parts of the southern Alps. The brilliant, almost shocking whiteness is worthy of inclusion in the famous white passage of Moby Dick. These are practically the very "plantification" (as it were--think personification...) of pure, seductive and evil beauty. Why evil? The winter rose is deathly poisonous. All the more surprising since it is invariably included in every Materia Medica published since the Middle Ages.
So don't nibble it, already! Few plants are really more indispensible or welcome in a Colorado Garden. Their gorgeous, lustrous foliage pleases every day of the year, and their huge (almost 3" across in some) alluring flowers are a glorious beackon right now when we need them the most!
(Many species of hellebore are coming into peak bloom throughout the York Street grounds over the next month, but our finest clumps of winter roses are south and west of Waring House.)

Helleborus x ericsmithii


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