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Helleborus hybrid
Helleborus hybrid

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Zone
Zones vary by species.
Partial SunNo Sun
Partial, Shade
Ample WaterRegular WaterMinimal Water
Ample, Moderate, Minimal
Toxicity
All parts are poisonous if ingested.

Helleborus

Hellebore
Ranunculaceae
Evergreen, Perennials

Distinctive, long-lived plants that add color to the garden for several months in winter and spring, hellebores are also appreciated for their attractive foliage. Each leaf consists of a long leafstalk ending in large, leathery leaflets grouped together like fingers on an outstretched hand. Flowers are usually shaped like cups or bells (those of Helleborus niger are saucer shaped), either outward facing or drooping; they consist of a ring of petal-like sepals ranging in color from white and green through pink and red to deep purple (rarely yellow). Flowers of all hellebores persist beyond the bloom periods listed, gradually turning green.

Helleborus argutifolius
Helleborus argutifolius

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Helleborus argutifolius

From Corsica, Sardinia. Erect or sprawling, to 2–3 ft. tall and wide. Substantial enough to use as a small shrub. Blue-green, 6–9-in. leaves are divided into three sharply toothed leaflets. Leafy stems carry clusters of 2-in., pale green flowers from winter into spring. Best hellebore for Southern California; more sun tolerant than others.

Helleborus foetidus

From western and central Europe. Grows to 2 1/2 ft. high and wide. The stems are clothed with dark green leaves divided into seven to ten narrow, leathery leaflets to 8 in. long. Clusters of inch-wide flowers are light green with purplish red edges; they bloom winter to spring.

Plant parts are malodorous if crushed or bruised (they don’t smell bad otherwise). Tolerates sun in cool, humid areas. Self-sows freely where adapted.

Helleborus niger ‘Double Fantasy’ (photo courtesy of Monrovia)
Helleborus niger ‘Double Fantasy’ (photo courtesy of Monrovia)

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Helleborus niger

From Europe. Leaves have no obvious stems. Elegant plant to 1 ft. tall and 1 1/2 ft. wide, blooming Christmas time into spring. Often planted in warm-winter climates but seldom thrives there. Plants of H. orientalis are often mislabeled as Christmas rose. Lustrous dark green leaves are divided into seven to nine lobes with a few large teeth; they seem to rise directly from the soil. White, 2-in. flowers appear singly or in groups of two or three on a stout stem about the same height as the foliage clump. Blooms turn pinkish with age.

Helleborus orientalis
Helleborus orientalis

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Helleborus orientalis

From Greece, Turkey, and the Caucasus. Leaves have no obvious stems. Much like H. niger in growth but more tolerant of warm-winter climates. Basal leaves with 5–11 sharply toothed leaflets; branched flowering stems to 1 ft. tall, with leaflike bracts at branching points. Blooms in late winter and spring; flowers are 2–4 in. wide, in colors including white, pink, purplish, cream, and greenish, often spotted with deep purple.

Helleborus x hybridus

Leaves have no obvious stems. These hybrid plants generally resemble the principal parent, H. orientalis, but the flower color range has been extended and superior parents selected for seed production. Some are sold under the breeder’s name, such as Ballard’s Group, which has flowers in several colors. Others are sold as color strains, such as Sunshine Selections (white, pink, yellow, or red flowers), Royal Heritage strain (pink, purple, maroon, or white blooms), and Winter Queen mix (white, pink, maroon, or spotted flowers). Others are grouped according to form, such as Party Dress Group, which has double flowers

Helleborus x nigercors (photo courtesy of Skagit Gardens)
Helleborus x nigercors (photo courtesy of Skagit Gardens)

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Helleborus x nigercors

Hybrid between H. niger and H. argutifolius. Grows to 10 in. tall, with 1-ft.-tall, sterile white inflorescence.

Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ (photo courtesy of PlantHaven International, Inc.)
Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’ (photo courtesy of PlantHaven International, Inc.)

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Helleborus ‘Ivory Prince’

Hybrid of complex parentage, with foliage like that of H. niger. Grows to 1 ft. high and 1 1/2–2 ft. wide; red buds open into ivory white flowers that take on rose and chartreuse tones as they age. Regular water.

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