Hellebore (Helleborus) is a flowering herbaceous perennial that goes by many names, including niger, winter rose, Lenten rose, Christmas rose, oracle flower, and more.
Hellebore plants are among the first to flower each year, with a blooming range starting in late winter and moving into early spring. In its ideal growing zones (four through nine), hellebore plants are evergreen, meaning their foliage stays green all year round.
The combination of year-round foliage, early blooming times, and a large variety of different breeds and colors make the hellebore a highly sought-after plant.
One thing to note is that the leaves, stems, and roots of the hellebore plant are poisonous to people and animals, so it is important to plant them somewhere out of reach of children, pets, and livestock.
Common Hellebore Species and Cultivars to Grow
There are many different varieties of hellebore to choose from, giving you several different color, foliage, and growing patterns from which to choose. Read on to help decide which variety—or varieties—is best for your garden.
Dark and Handsome Hellebore
Once you’ve seen a dark and handsome hellebore plant, you’ll understand where it gets its name. The flowers this breed produces are nearly black in color, although they are actually a very deep purple, and are each 2.5 to 3 inches in diameter. These flowers can bloom as early as January and have a six- to eight-week blooming period.
Penny’s Pink Hellebore
Penny’s pink hellebore plant blooms beautiful pink flowers with cream-colored stamens. These flowers face outwards, while most hellebore flowers face upwards as do many garden flowers.
Another reason this breed stands out is the foliage boasts deep pink veins in the stems that lead up to deep green leaves. With the foliage being evergreen, you will see hints of pink in the stems year round.
Aside from the deep pink buds, it’s important to note that blooms on this breed start in late winter to mid spring, and a substantial number of blooms are created in this time period.
‘FrostKiss Anna’s Red’
The Frostkiss Anna’s red hellebore plants have deep burgundy-colored flowers on green foliage that often have cream-colored marbled areas. These flowers form in clusters of eight to ten, creating a dense patch when planted close enough together.
The growing zones for this variety are a little more limited than most others, with ideal zones of five to eight. These flowers generally begin to bloom in February and continue to bloom for at least two months when cared for properly.
If you’ve heard the term “Christmas rose” in relation to a hellebore plant, it was most likely referencing the snowbell variety. The flowers that bloom from this variety are nearly a pure white, with cream-colored stamens in the middle.
The bright white flowers combined with the blooming time that almost always starts before Christmas makes the snowbells a very popular choice among gardeners in the winter and early spring months.
‘Corsican Hellebore’ aka Bear’s Foot
The Corsican hellebore—also known as bear’s foot—is one of the most subtle varieties of hellebore available. It has pale green flowers that closely resemble its evergreen foliage.
On many flowers a very thin deep purple ring will form around the tips of the petals—that’s nearly the only thing distinguishing it as a flower as opposed to another petal. Although subtle, these are still a garden favorite as they bloom through snow and are evergreen.
The stinking hellebore variety is similar to the bear’s foot in the way that the blooms are green and blend in to its foliage. These flowers also have colored petal tips, ranging from a purple to red color. The distinguishing difference of the stinking hellebore is that it gives off an unpleasant smell when touched—hence the name.
This variety will be some of the first to bloom in late winter and will continue blooming through mid-spring.
The flowers on the golden lotus hellebore variety are some of the bushiest, with as many as 20 petals per bloom. The light golden color of the flowers give off a sunny disposition that would cheer anyone up in those late winter months. Occasionally, the petals will have red tips, although they are usually subtle if present.
‘Helleborus Walberton’s Rosemary’
If you are looking for pink flowers for your hellebore plant, the Helleborus Walberton’s Rosemary variety may be a good choice. Its star-shaped flowers have vibrant pink petals that become darker as you look closer to the end of the petals.
This is another breed of hellebore where the flowers face outwards instead of upwards, making them a unique option. This variety blooms for the standard late winter to mid-spring time period.
Another great pink-flowered option is the pink frost hellebore variety. The pink on these flowers is more of a pale color that slowly becomes a little more vibrant closer to the end of the petals. The petals form in a curved shape, similarly to some rose varieties.
These flowers will begin to bloom in late winter and continue to bloom for approximately six weeks.
‘Paris in Pink’
The Paris in pink hellebore variety is yet another great choice for pink flowers. This breed generally has some of the largest flowers, growing around four inches in diameter each.
The pink tones are marbled with an off-white color, giving it a muted hue when compared to many other pink flowering varieties. The blooming period for these flowers is usually at least six weeks beginning in late winter.
The angel glow hellebore variety, while still pink, has a decent amount of white and cream tones, dulling any pink color that comes through. The lightness of the pink against the white colors is often seen as a “glow”, which is likely where the name originates.
The growing zones for these flowers are more limited than most with hardiness zones of six to eight. These flowers will generally start blooming in mid-winter and will continue to bloom until mid-spring.
Another forward-facing flower, the Merlin hellebore, features deep reddish-pink-colored flowers with deep plum-colored stems. These flowers form in dense clusters against their dark green leaves, making them a beautiful addition to any flower garden. While most hellebore plants begin blooming in the winter, the Merlin variety generally starts in early spring, but it will bloom further into spring than many other varieties.
The sandy shores hellebore variety has beautiful multi-colored flowers that stand out against its deep-colored foliage. These flowers have petals that are a rosy-pink color on the back and an apricot color on the front often with splashes of deep red near the middle of the flower. The blooming time for this variety starts in late winter, generally blooming for at least six weeks.
The cascade blush hellebore variety is a great option for someone looking for some nice deep purple colors to add to their garden. While not as dark as the “dark and handsome” variety mentioned earlier, the colors do give a dark green essence, which contrasts nicely against the leathery foliage. This is a mounding variety that blooms from late winter to early spring.
If you are looking for a contrasting statement flower for your garden, the romantic getaway hellebore variety may be a good choice. The large flowers that bloom on this plant have a deep red middle with a thick white rim around each petal, creating a bold contrast that also stands out against its deep green foliage.
This variety is also known for the great number of flowers that each plant produces in a blooming season, which is late winter to mid-spring.
The California dreaming hellebore variety gets its name from the golden-yellow flowers that it produces. While many types of hellebores have multi-colored flowers, the California dreaming variety has solid yellow flowers—even the stamens are the same yellow, adding to its consistency.
The foliage on this breed of hellebore plant is a lighter green than most, nicely complimenting the light yellow flowers. The bloom time for this variety generally doesn’t start until early spring, continuing through mid-spring.
The Vegas nights hellebore plant is another dark-colored option for your garden. The flowers bloom as a deep, but pale purple color—similarly to the night sky above a city such as Las Vegas.
Each flower is approximately three inches in diameter, and they form in clusters, creating a nice statement in any garden. This breed of hellebore is another that begins to bloom in late winter, blooming for around six weeks or more if cared for properly.
The ivory prince hellebore variety is yet another fairly unique breed due to the color of its flowers. These flower buds are a burgundy-pink color, which stays on the back of the petals, but the inside is an ivory color that can sometimes appear as a light green against the dark green foliage of the plant.
While the blooming time is pretty standard for a hellebore variety, the flowers themselves are also long-lasting on the ivory prince variety.
After looking at a confetti cake hellebore flower, it won’t take you long to understand why it was named that way. The base color for these flowers is a bright white; contrasting against the white is a deep burgundy color that is speckled across each petal.
The burgundy speckling is the most concentrated toward the middle of the flower, and it becomes more spread out the closer it gets to the end of the petal. These flowers are generally about three inches in diameter, but they form in tight clusters. The blooming time for this variety is late winter to early spring.
The Jacob hellebore is another common variety that people will refer to as a “Christmas rose”, due to its bright white flowers.
While these white flowers are a small to medium size, they form in mounding clusters, giving them a larger appearance. The dark, leathery foliage is a good contrast against the bright white of the petals. While these flowers can begin to bloom in late winter, they are more prominent in the early to mid-spring months.
‘New York Nightlife’
Are New York nights darker than Vegas nights? Apparently so if you base your answer on hellebore plants. The New York nightlife hellebore flowers are nearly as dark as the “dark and handsome” hellebore flowers discussed previously.
These deep purple to black flowers form in tight clusters and grow against a deep green foliage. The bloom time for these flowers starts in early spring, continuing through mid-spring.
The midnight ruffles hellebore variety is another deeply dark-colored flower, although this variety contrasts against a light yellow stamen. These flowers are considered to be double-flowered, as there is a larger ring of petals surrounding a smaller ring of petals. The individual flowers are known for their long-lasting color, even once cut. The bloom time for the midnight ruffles variety is early to mid-spring.
Another double-bloomed flower, the dashing groomsman variety, has extra rings of petals, making each flower larger and more full. The color on these flowers is a deep and rich purple with a light yellow-green stamen in the middle.
While these flowers may start to make an appearance in late winter, they are more likely to begin blooming in early spring, continuing to bloom for six weeks or so.
The royal heritage hellebore variety is one of the few that has a range of colors in which each flower may bloom. There are several potential flower colors including red, white, pink, deep purple, maroon, and occasionally yellow and pale green.
Another unique factor that the royal heritage has is that it can start blooming in early winter, often before any other plant, and continues to bloom through early spring.
‘Onyx Odyssey’ Hellebore
The Onyx Odyssey hellebore is another double-blooming flower, but this variety is cup-shaped and the petals often have a wave to them, while most others are flat. The color of these flowers is a deep slate to purple and is another great choice for a dark-colored flower.
The foliage for these flowers is often a glossy green, contrasting nicely against the deep-colored petals. The blooming time for this breed is late winter to early spring.
Quick Tips for Growing Hellebore
Now that you know all about the best types of Hellebore flowers to grow, let’s go over how to care for hellebores.
Here are a few quick tips for growing any kind of hellebore varieties you choose to plant in your garden!
Where is the Best Place to Plant a Hellebore?
Most varieties of hellebore do best in places that have rich, well-draining soil, which should be kept moist. A sloped garden or flower bed is ideal for many hellebore types as this can help give them the drainage they require to stay healthy and grow high yields of blooms.
Do Hellebores Like Sun or Shade?
During the winter months, hellebore plants can do well in either sunny or shady environments; however, once the warmer months start to creep in, a shaded area will likely be the best place for your hellebore flowers.
If you are planting your hellebore directly into the ground or into a flower bed that cannot easily be moved or covered, plan ahead for the harsh summer sun and plant in a partially- to fully-shaded area.
When it comes to companion plants for hellebores, make sure your companions can thrive in shade and can provide a nice backdrop and beautiful contrast with hellebores’ blooms and foliage.
Planting Your Hellebores
Choosing the proper location based on the above information is the first step when planting your hellebore plants. If your soil doesn’t have the proper nutrients, the next step would be to add nutrients either via fertilizer or by adding properly fertilized potting soil into your dirt. The next step is to dig your hole just deep enough to cover the roots.
Hellebore plants are prone to root rot, so keeping the roots as close to the surface as possible can help with drainage. After planting, it is a good idea to water the plants right away; plants need a lot of water to properly adapt to their new environment.
When handling hellebore plants, it is always a good idea to wear gloves, as they can cause skin irritation.
Watering, Fertilizing, and Pruning Needs
Hellebore plants prefer moist—but not wet—soil. As long as their soil is well-draining, hellebore plants should be watered as soon as the top soil becomes dry—the timing will vary based on the season, temperature, and humidity levels.
As long as your hellebore plants are grown in soil with the proper nutrient levels, you should only need to add fertilizer once a year. Slow-release fertilizer is ideal for these plants, as they can pull nutrients from it for a longer period of time. Summer is the best time to fertilize your hellebore plants.
Since hellebore are evergreen plants, they will require some pruning of old leaves each season. Any old leaves that have not fallen off on their own should be pruned off to allow the growth of new leaves.
Hellebore can make a great addition to any garden or landscaping. With so many different varieties to choose from, there’s bound to be a type that fits your garden plan. There are few plants that flower in the winter, so adding hellebore can help bring that springtime feel and possibly cure any seasonal depression.
While hellebore are relatively simple to plant and care for, there are some specific actions that should be taken to ensure their long-term health.
A properly cared for hellebore plant will bring great beauty and happiness to your garden – just be sure to take their toxicity levels into account to keep your kids and animals safe.
See more: What do hellebores symbolize?
*image by dianazh/depositphotos