Plant of the Month - December 2022
We always had a Christmas Rose flower arrangement on our festive table in England when I was young. My Mother had previously surrounded the plant with an open box in the fall. This was covered with glass if the temperature dropped below freezing. We usually had flowers to bring inside.
A friend gave me a small division of Helleborus niger ‘Praecox’ over forty years ago. This was from a clone in Vancouver. It starts to bloom in our Toronto garden in the fall, sometimes in the 3rd week of October. I cover it so I can pick flowers if weather permits. It divides easily, sections more or less falling apart, unlike the other Helleborus niger plants I grow.
Common Name: Christmas Rose, Black Hellebore, St Agnes Rose.
Helleborus niger 'Praecox' - buds October 27, 2022.
Life Cycle: Herbaceous evergreen perennial.
Height: to 30 cm, spreading to 40 cm.
Bloom Time: Early November to April in Toronto.
Flower Colour & Size: Bowl shaped, 7 cm across, usually single flowered with 5 white, long lasting, petaloid, green based sepals, sometimes fading to pink. The petals are reduced to small green nectaries below numerous yellow stamens and 5 green capsules.
Helleborus niger 'Praecox' November 11 2022.
Leaves: Dark green, leathery compound leaves with 7-9 irregularly toothed, palmate leaflets.
Helleborus niger 'Praecox' - leaves.
Range: Helleborus niger is native to Southern and Central Europe.
Habitat: It grows in alpine areas and montane woodlands.
General Care: Cut back old leaves in spring when young leaves appear to prevent Hellebore Black Death (virus).
Plant: As a specimen, close to house, to enjoy bloom in winter.
Light: Semi-shade to full deciduous shade.
Soil: Neutral to alkaline, humus rich soils.
Water: Moist, well drained with medium amounts of water.
USDA Hardiness: Zone 3 - 8.
Companion planting: Spring bulbs, Hosta, ferns.
Propagation: Seed (if any - may be too cold for pollinators): fresh sown is best. Older seed requires soaking. Then use repeated cycles of 20°C, then 4°C for 3 months each. Germination is slow.
Divide carefully in spring.
Problems: Rot with winter wet. Slugs eat flowers. Black death of Hellebores.
Helleborus niger 'Praecox' - winter damage.
Alpine Garden Society Encyclopedia of Alpines, Vol I.
Text and images supplied by Anna Leggatt (Toronto Master Gardener)