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  • Writer's pictureJohn Chapin

The Christmas Rose

Helleborus 'Ivory Prince"

A few years ago, in addition to poinsettias, Christmas cactus, and amaryllis, white-blooming hellebores started showing up at garden centers in December. These beautiful plants are now commonly offered even in grocery stores. Unlike all the other flowering Christmas plants, hellebores are hardy perennials, and can be planted in your flower gardens or landscaping. 

The most commonly available, if fact the only one I’ve ever seen for sale at Christmas, is the beautiful variety ‘Ivory Prince’. All hellebore “blooms” last for months because the true blooms are the small yellowish center parts that are surrounded by large white bracts, back-blushed with pink. Just like poinsettias, after the true flower parts wither and fade, the bracts remain attractive literally for months. Although labeled “Christmas Rose”, ‘Ivory Prince’ is a variety of “Lenten Rose” (Helleborus Orientalis), which are more hardy and easier to grow than the true “Christmas Rose” (Helleborus Niger), which does bloom earlier, but is rarely available. ‘Ivory Prince’ is the result of a complex breeding program, with upward facing clusters of blooms and attractive, nearly evergreen leaves. 

Although most hellebore varieties have downward facing flowers, intensive breeding has resulted in a rainbow of colors (except blue), bi-colors, speckled, very dark shades, and blushes. It’s exciting that many double-flowering varieties are now available, usually at premium prices, but well worth it! A breeding goal is upward-facing, double blooms which would be truly spectacular. I’m sure the plant breeder wizards will be able to develop them eventually. Note: Hellebores are so floriferous, that even the “drooping” flowers make a beautiful display for months and are very welcome sights in late winger, blooming even unbothered by late snows and frosts. 

Hellebores thrive wherever hostas are happy. Once planted, they don’t like to be disturbed, but can be transplanted or divided in the fall if need be. Deer, rabbits, and voles won’t bother hellebores. Although the leaves are nearly evergreen, they should be removed before new growth in early spring for best flower display. 

If you’ve received or bought a hellebore for the holidays, keep it near a window, but out of direct sunlight, to enjoy the blooms. It will probably start to grow new leaves, which are too tender to survive normal winter freezes until next winter. Around Mother’s Day, it’s safe to plant it outdoors where it will thrive for decades with little care. 

Happy gardening!

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