Basic information about Helleborus. Includes Origin, Growing & Cultivation, Common Pests & Diseases, Interesting Facts & Uses, and Garden Design Tips.
The botanical name, Helleborus, is commonly believed to be derived from the Greek ‘helle’ (to take away) and ‘bora’ (food), referring to its use as an emetic (to induce vomiting).
The common names Lenten Rose, Winter Rose, and Christmas Rose, are all referring to its habit of blooming in late winter or very early spring.
Most helleborus varieties are native to Europe and Asia, with one representative in China and one in Turkey/Syria.
Growing and Cultivation
Helleborus prefers partial shade and rich, neutral soil. They do not like to be waterlogged or very dry. They do like to be sheltered from strong winds. Leaving the old leaves on the plant for protection in winter is recommended, and only removing the old foliage in late winter/early spring (December/January), when buds start to form before the floral display appears. Helleborus enjoys soil enrichments of leaves, compost, or other organic matter, as well as fish or blood/bone meal. High potassium fertilizers will encourage flowering.
Common Pests and Diseases
Helleborus can develop fungal diseases (black or brown wet-looking mushy spots on leaves, stems, and crowns, sometimes with gray fuzz), mostly related to poor drainage and excess water. Amending heavy or poorly drained soils is recommended; perlite, bark, coarse sand, and other materials work well.
Aphids, slugs or snails will occasionally drop by to snack on foliage; they can removed by hand or treated with insecticides, soaps, oils, or traps/baits.
These plants are both deer and rabbit resistant – their poisonous nature makes them unattractive to eat.
Interesting Facts and Uses
All parts of helleborus are poisonous, so keep children and animals away.
Many myths and legends surround this plant, most juxtaposing its poisonous properties with its medical use.
Christian stories about it have said it sprouted from the tears of a girl with no gift to give Jesus on his birth, but also used as an evil herb to summon demons.
Greek stories have it used to cure madness and also to poison a water supply in times of siege.
Helleborus was suggested as an ingredient in the medicine overdose that killed Alexander the Great.
The flowers also attract bees, making them a helpful addition to a pollinator-friendly garden.
Garden Design Tips
Some gardeners choose to plant them into a sloped bed to improve drainage and provide a better view of the naturally nodding flowers.
To purchase helleborus varieties, please visit our Shade Companion Plants Page.