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Helleborus x hybridus (photo courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens)
Helleborus x hybridus (photo courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens)

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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

These distinctive, long-lived plants add color to the garden for several months in winter and spring; they are also appreciated for their attractive, leathery foliage. 

Flowers are usually shaped like cups or bells, 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 persist beyond the listed bloom periods, gradually turning green. Blossoms are attractive in arrangements: seal ends of cut stems by searing over a flame or immersing in boiling water for a few seconds. Then place in cold water. Or simply float flowers in a bowl of water.

Mass hellebores under high-branching trees, on north or east side of walls, or in beds. Plants are not damaged by rodents or deer.

Plant in well-drained soil amended with plenty of organic matter. Plants prefer soil that is somewhat alkaline but will also grow well in neutral to slightly acid conditions (H. niger is an exception; it must have alkaline soil). Feed once or twice a year. Don’t disturb once planted; they resent moving and may take 2 or more years to reestablish (if they survive at all). If well sited, however, they may self-sow, and young seedlings can be transplanted in early spring. Offspring may not resemble the parent, but all are attractive. 

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 (photo courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens)
Helleborus foetidus (photo courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens)

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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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