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Helleborus x hybridus

Helleborus x hybridus

These hybrid hellebores cover the ground with their variable, nodding flowers. They look great and you can find them opposite the cedar in the Winter Garden. They are one of a great number of reasons to visit Harlow Carr in February, and easy to take inspiration from and grow in your own garden at home.

Vital statistics

Common name
Hellebore, hybrid Lenten rose
Family
Ranunculaceae
Height & spread
30cm (1ft) high by 45cm (1.5ft) wide
Form
Deciduous or semi-evergreen shrub
Soil
Any well-drained soil
Aspect
Full sun or partial shade
Hardiness
Hardy throughout the British Isles

Hellebore

Helleborus is a small genus containing about 15 species of herbaceous perennials found mainly in scrub and woodland on chalk or limestone soils. Most species are European, though hellebores can be found as far afield as western Asia.

Helleborus foetidus and H. viridis are both British natives occurring on the chalk-hills of southern England in woods and scrub, often forming quite large colonies.

The true wild hellebore species are not commonly grown in gardens as hellebores hybridise very easily and the hybrids are excellent garden plants with improved form, flowering and flower colour.

Most of the hellebores grown in gardens are hybrids involving Helleborus orientalis, crossed with H. cyclophyllus and H. ordorus to give yellow flowers, H. multifidus subsp. bocconei to give green flowers and with H. torquatus to produce deep purple colours.

Other hellebores have also been used to create garden hybrids, including Helleborus argutifolius and H. lividus. These species hybridise readily to produce hybrids named Helleborus x sternii after Sir Frederick Stern, one of the first exhibitors of this hybrid at an RHS Show.

Hellebores have also been associated with medicine for over 2,200 years. In southern England the powdered leaves of Helleborus foetidus were given to children troubled with worms, though it was described as 'a violent remedy'. We now know that hellebores contain poisonous cardiac glycosides that have a burning taste and can also cause unpleasant dermatitis if the sap gets onto the skin.

Helleborus x hybridus

Helleborus x hybridus is the name given to a group of variable, clump forming, perennial hybrids of H. orientalis and other species.

The name has only recently been accepted and many labels in the gardens identify plants as Helleborus orientalis. Depending on the hybrid, the leathery, mid to dark green leaves may be deciduous or overwintering.

From mid-winter to mid-spring saucer shaped, pendent flowers are borne on stout stems, with colours ranging from white, yellow and green to pink and purple.

Cultivation

  • Helleborus x hybridus will tolerate all but very poorly drained or dry soils, but the optimum conditions for cultivation are a heavy, neutral to alkaline soil and dappled shade.
  • Plant in autumn and leave undisturbed as the fleshy roots transplant badly and may take several years to re-establish before flowering again. The plants will benefit from the incorporation of organic matter at planting and an annual mulching with leaf mould in autumn.
  • All hellebores are susceptible to leaf spot which appears as large brown lesions on young foliage in the early part of the year. If severe, the lesions will spread to the flowering stems and can occasionally cause the collapse of the entire plant.
  • Helleborus x hybridus cultivars are also susceptible to hellebore black death, the cause is unknown at present but the symptoms appear as black streaking and mottling of the tissues along or between the leaf veins. To reduce the risk of spread, infected plants should be dug up and destroyed immediately.

Propagation

  • Seed can be collected and sown when fresh but in most cases will not come true to the original parent. It is advisable to wear gloves when extracting the seeds.
  • Division will ensure that all plants are the same. Divide plants either in spring or late summer/early autumn, taking great care of the fragile fleshy roots otherwise flowering will be affected for several years while the plant re-establishes.
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