Last Updated On: December 6th, 2019
Learn all about Hellebores in this gardener's guide of these beautiful perennials, including plant care, companion plants, frost-hardiness, history, and more.
What do you visualize when you think of winter and your yard?
Do the terms "dark, dismal, or drab" come to mind? Well, Hello Hellebore!
In our Hellebore plant profile below, you'll learn about the many benefits this beautiful winter bloomer has to offer.
When everything is dark, cold and leafless, this little pop of color can make a world of difference to an otherwise stark landscape.
So, what is a Hellebore? Where are they native?
This post will give you the confidence you need to grow and care for them on your own.
Let's get started on your journey to better hellebore plant care and understanding!
Read our Hellebore plant profile post below to learn:
- How to maintain and care for hellebores in your yard.
- The best growing conditions for your hellebores.
- Quick history of hellebores.
- Fun facts and so much more.
By the way, our Hellebore plant profile guide below is meant for anyone who wants to learn more about this plant. We hope you enjoy it!
Hellebores and Why You Should Love Them
First, hellebores add a pop of color to winter gardens which might otherwise look drab and dull. Due to their early bloom time between January and March, you can add winter interest year after year by planting hellebores around your yard.
Plus, with the abundance of color options available and their evergreen mounds after blooming, you can enhance your yard all year long!
In addition, hellebores are very low maintenance which makes them suitable for any level of gardener, especially beginning gardeners. As long as they have full to partial shade, they are tough, resilient plants that bloom with elegant, downward-facing flowers.
Finally, they are both deer and pest-resistant. These plants tend to be very poisonous to both animals and humans which means you need to maintain caution when planting them.
Hellebore: History and Uses
As you begin your journey to understand more about hellebore plant care, a good place to start is to first learn about their family group, their history, and their uses. Read on below for more!
Hellebores are in the Ranunculaceae family group which consists of over 2000 species of herbaceous or evergreen perennial flowering plants.
Also known as the buttercup family, family members include a mix of annuals or perennials, climbers, and shrubs. The plant parts of most family members are toxic to humans and animals.
Ranunculaceae family members have been valued for a few uses over time, including:
- Poison (in Roman times)
- Herbal medicines
- Treating epilepsy
- Treating high blood pressure
- Ornamental gardens
- Other medicinal uses
Other members of the Ranunculaceae family include Ranunculus, Clematis, Buttercups, and Delphinium, and many more.
History of Hellebores (in Brief)
Hellebores are native to Eurasia, specifically Mediterranean Europe. They made their presence known throughout history in Europe and eventually North America.
There is a long, interesting history of hellebores back to Ancient Greece.
Research indicates that Hellebores were used as a biological weapon by the Athenians due to their ability to cause diarrhea when ingested. Apparently, they poisoned the wells of their enemies with hellebores to make them sick. It makes sense why Hippocrates used these plants as ancient, medicinal laxatives.
By the Middle Ages, hellebores were used to drive away evil spirits and were said to cause madness. They were also used as an ingredient in witches' ointments.
Eventually, hellebores made their way to Europe and North America. Today, they have continued to grow in popularity due to their winter-blooming flowers and variety of cultivars available.
Symbolically, different cultivars have different meanings and folklore depending on where they originated and their bloom time. For example, the famous Christmas Rose, or black hellebore, was said to bloom very early near Christmas time.
Today, hellebores continue to grace winter gardens in North America, Europe, and elsewhere with their early blooming beauty. They are especially favored in woodland or cottage gardens.
Hellebore Care and Plant Profile
|Common/Trade Name||Hellebore (in the Ranunculaceae Family)|
|Botanical/Scientific Name||Helleborus argutifolius (Corsican Hellebore) OR hybrids|
|Zones||- Sunset – 3b-9/14-24 OR 2b-10/14-24
- USDA – 4a OR 4b, depending of species.
|General Information||- Plant in well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter.
- They don't like to be transplanted or moved frequently, as they can take up to 2+ years to flower again.
- Not damaged by deer or rodents.
|Native Environment||Europe and Eastern Europe.|
|Mature Height/Width||Corsican- 2-3 ft tall/wide OR Hybrids- 1 ft tall/wide.|
|Bloom Time||Winter into Spring
|Flower Colors||Soft green, white, pink, yellow, red, purple, or cream.|
|Number of Species||At least 12, maybe more.|
|Sun Exposure||Partial to Full Shade|
|Fertilize?||Yes, once or twice a year|
|Plant Spacing||2-3 ft apart for Corsican, 1 ft apart for Hybrids|
|Suggested Companion Plant/s||Plant under high branching trees, on the north or east side of walls or in garden beds.|
|Maintenance Level||Low – keep spent/dead flowers cleaned up, along with regular watering.|
|Poisonous to Pets?||Yes, the entire plant and all plant parts, so don't let your pets eat any pieces of this plant.|
|Edible for Humans?||No, as it can induce vomiting and other negative reactions.|
|Fun (or historical) Facts||- The Hellebore varieties, "Christmas Rose" and "Lenten Rose" are not genetically related to a rose.
- Hellebores can be divided into two different distinct groups; those with stems and those without.
Are Hellebores Frost Hardy?
This is a great question and it gets asked a lot. In general, YES, Hellebores are frost friendly and hardy.
Some species might be more averse to frost than others, so make sure to check with your local nursery to be sure they carry frost hardy species before purchasing. If you have unseasonably cold weather where the temperature drops way below the hardiness of most hellebores, which is around zone 4 or 5-degrees F° or 15-degrees C°, the blooming flower should be fine under frost or cold temperatures.
However, there could be cold damage to flowers if other environmental factors are right for that damage, like moisture levels, microclimates, extreme weather, and others.
If you're looking to grow hellebores in your garden, check out the North American Rock Garden Society and the different Hellebores they feature.
Do Hellebores Need Sun or Shade?
As our table states above, hellebores are shade-loving plants.
However, hellebores can tolerate a wide range of sunlight conditions from shade to partial sun. They could continue blooming in the spring season and can handle the spring sun, but most prefer shadier locations.
Try planting hellebores beneath trees or large shrubs for shadier conditions.
Hellebore Care (in Brief)
- Use a hand trowel or small shovel for planting.
- Use pruning shears to remove excess roots or any damaged tissue before planting.
- Compost and natural fertilizers can be added for better plant health.
- Long-handled watering wand with nozzle can be used for watering your hellebores.
- Ladybug eggs and lacewing eggs are natural predators to aphids.
Hellebore Companion Plants
Hellebores are one of the best plants to plant in your garden for continuous winter flowering. Plus, their flowers change colors progressively from winter to spring causing interest in the garden for multiple months in a row.
In the winter season, you will be a bit more limited to foliage or other winter bloomers that grow in similar conditions, but you still have options.
Companion plants to consider:
- Bleeding Heart
- Wood Sorrel
Winter Flower Care Reading Material
If you’re looking for further educational resources about all types of winter-blooming plants, these books below are great educational references!
To create a four-season garden featuring specific, beautiful plants that bloom during specific seasons, including the hellebore, look no further than our new ebook.
In Four-Season Gardening, you'll learn plant care tips for fifteen seasonal plants with added seasonal gardening tricks that could be the difference between a thriving garden and a ho-hum garden. Check it out!
This is a great reference guide for tons of different perennial and annual plants from the American Horticultural Society.
Hellebores for Sale
If you don't already have hellebores in your garden, you may be ready to purchase your own plants. Click on either of the pictures below for a current price.
Or, do you need to stock up on other types of plants? Here's a great winter deal that will help you fill up your garden with next season's plants. We have two hellebores in our front garden and here are two showcased varieties below from Burpee, with many more to choose from.
Conclusion for Hellebores
Today, hellebores remain a popular choice for winter gardens. Whether you want to add a pop to your garden or add winter interest, pick your favorite color and plant some hellebores!
Just be careful to use gloves whenever handling the flowers and stems due to their potentially poisonous parts.
Ideal for woodland or cottage gardens, these tough, resilient plants will liven up gardens year-round. With very little maintenance necessary and their beautiful colors, hellebores are the perfect plant to add to your winter garden.
Now we want to hear from you!
What other questions do you have about hellebores that we didn't answer above? Let us know by leaving a quick comment below. Thanks!
Want to learn about other plants in your garden? Check out some of our previous plant profiles:
- Daffodils: A Gardener's Guide and Plant Profile
- Crocosmia: A Gardener's Guide and Plant Profile
- Primroses: A Gardener's Guide and Plant Profile
- Tulips: A Gardener's Guide and Plant Profile
- Grape Hyacinth: A Gardener's Guide and Plant Profile
- Sunflowers: A Gardener's Guide and Plant Profile
See you in the garden!
~ Sean and Allison
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