Lenten Rose, Hellebore

(Helleborus orientalis and hybrids)

helleborus_lenten-rose_portlandor_20100208_lah_9260Lenten Roses are a welcome sight after a long, lifeless winter. Hardy between USDA zones 4 – 8, they are among the earliest flowers to bloom., emerging from clumps of attractive, evergreen foliage about two feet high and 15 inches across.

The colorful sepals come in shades of green-white, through mauve pink and plum to a deep wine red. Some newer hybrids add a pale yellow to the mix. (The inconspicuous petals act as nectaries, luring bees with their sweet nectar.) Blooms come in single or double forms. Recently, breeders have developed cultivars with an open, anemone-type flower.

Originally native to Eurasia, all Hellebores are dangerously poisonous. From their roots, ancient cultures created medicines used to treat paralysis, gout, and especially insanity. It was frequently used as a purgative. Historians believe an overdose of Hellebore may have killed Alexander the Great. As some people are sensitive to the sap, it’s a good idea to wear gloves when tending your plants.

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