|Helleborus x hybridus
2005 'Perennial Plant of the Year'
If you were to go to your local nursery or garden center and pick up an un-bloomed
hellebore plant, chances are it would be somewhere in the range of white to
magenta, with various pinks and mauves (spotted or unspotted) being common. It
would almost certainly be Helleborus x hybridus. There are also greens and
'yellows' and 'blues' and many other combinations that are possible--not to
mention virtually endless combinations of spotting and veining, along with the
possibility of doubles or semi-doubles. The flowers would have a range of
shapes and sizes, from round cup-shaped overlapping sepals to pointed
If I had to choose a single plant for my garden, it would be Helleborus x hybridus.
The species hellebores have a distinctive charm all their own, but it is the hybrids
that generate the overtly visceral reactions in most gardeners. Thanks to careful
selection and hybridization--along with a little imagination and luck on the part of
many growers and enthusiasts--the hybrid hellebores available today show
considerable variety. The variety is such that even a casual interest can turn to
addiction in a short time. These easy to grow, relatively care free plants, are
essential to any temperate garden.
In USDA 6 and above, most Helleborus x hybridus plants maintain their dark
green, glossy foliage through winter. But by late winter, it is helpful to cut back the
old foliage to allow better viewing of the emerging flower stalks. The buds typically
emerge from the soil sometime between January and March, though they may be
earlier or later depending on the hybrid's genes, as well as the local climate and
recent weather conditions. Many are hardy to zone 4 or 5, but this also depends
on microclimates and local conditions. In areas of constant snow cover, plants
will survive very cold temperatures.
When planting out, an open to partially shaded location suits them. As with most
perennials, a nutritious soil that has decent drainage but is not overly dry gives
best results. Still the plants will respond well to many different conditions, which
is a sign of the overall adaptability of hellebores. See the growing/propagating
The term 'Helleborus x hybridus' refers to any plant resulting from cross
fertilization of acaulescent (stemless) plants. It also refers to seedlings of any
Helleborus x hybridus plant. The name even extends to seedlings of acaulescent
species plants grown in gardens and to offspring of 'species' plants of unknown
provenance. Acaulescent (stemless) hybrids are some of the most vigorous and
easily grown hellebores. They often grow bigger and bloom faster than
acaulescent species, though many species are also vigorous and easy to grow.
Their ease of culture, combined with the beauty and range of their flowers, explain
in part why they are such popular plants for gardens.
Of the common names used to describe hellebores, it is names like 'Orientalis'
and 'Orientalis hybrids' that cause the most confusion. 'Helleborus orientalis' is
the botanical name for a species from which many hybrids derived, but some
hybrids have little or no H. orientalis heritage at all. We now refer to all
acaulescent hybrids as 'Helleborus x hybridus' to avoid potential confusion. See
'Good' Plant, 'Bad' Plant
Perhaps one of the crucial moments for hybrid hellebores in the US was the
publication of Rice and Strangman's A Gardener's Guide to Growing Hellebores.
The book provided information and enticing photos that most gardeners
(particularly those outside Europe) had never witnessed.
Interestingly, many of the forms the book described have already been produced
in significant quantities on several continents. It is now possible to acquire
doubles, semi-doubles, bicolors, picotees, etc. from a variety of sources. The
quality of plants now available in some cases exceeds those pictured in the book.
Yet, simply going to your local garden center and picking up a plant doesn't
guarantee it will be of such quality. Hybrid hellebores are amazingly
unpredictable, in part because they have such mixed genetics, and in part
because sepals provide the color in hellebores.
Quality in hybrids varies considerably. Most places do not rigorously cull plants or
have real goals with hybridizing. Some plants sold are simply open-pollinated
seedlings that emerged beneath the parent plants. Consequently, most plants
sold end up being mediocre. When possible, it is best to purchase plants in
flower or when photos of actual plants can be provided. Hand-pollination is no
guarantee of success, though in many cases it can result in desirable qualities.
See the page on hybridizing and selection. On the other hand, the "beauty is in the
eye of beholder" cliche certainly applies here. Serious growers and collectors may
indeed have clear goals in mind, but most hellebores will make fine garden
Helleborus x hybridus