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Christmas roses, as well as Lenten roses, can bring blooms to our winter landscape. These perennials are hellebores, an old-fashioned plant enjoying renewed interest. They are not roses at all, but belong to the buttercup family. They thrive in alkaline soil but tolerate acidic soils as well. They should be planted in partly shaded to shady sites.
There are several types of hellebores, but the two most common are H. niger and H. orientalis.
Christmas rose, or Helleborus niger, rarely blooms during the Christmas season but blooms later in the winter. The colder the climate, the later they bloom. They have 3- to 4-inch wide white blooms with green or gold centers on 8- to 15-inch stalks and are chalice-shaped, hanging on the plants like bells. They tend to grow in low clumps. Some varieties may reach 22 feet tall by 22 feet wide. They can be found growing wild in fields in Bosnia, Turkey and Greece.
Lenten rose, Helleborus orientalis, actually comes from Greece. It has blossoms from creamy white to red or black purple. These blossoms are usually spotted, making them even more interesting. Some favorites are Alcyone, blush; Isolde, pale rose; Larissa, deep rose; and Snowdrift, white. They grow from single stem stalks with the blooming period usually February through May. The previous year’s leaves lean outward leaving the blossoms standing alone. The blooms will be on 12- to 18-inch stalks.
Hellebores were used in the past as purgatives or poison. Deer will not eat this plant, but slugs find them a delight. They will quickly die if located in a moist area, but fare well in dry conditions. They add color to the winter garden and are long-lived perennials. Give them a try for something unusual.
Send your gardening questions or comments to: Brunswick County Master Gardener Column, P.O. Box 109, Bolivia, NC 28422, or call 253-2610. Enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope if requesting information or a reply. Answers may be printed in this column.
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