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Lenten Rose

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Picture of a lenten rose. This photo shows the flower buds of a lenten rose.

Photo showing the flower buds of a Lenten rose.

David Beaulieu

Plant Taxonomy of Lenten Rose:

Plant taxonomy classifies Lenten rose flowers as Helleborus orientalis. Other Hellebores exist, including Helleborus niger, the "Christmas rose." So-called "white hellebore" plants (or, better, "false hellebore") are wildflowers native to the northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canada and classified by taxonomists as Veratrum viride.

Plant Type for Helleborus Orientalis:

Helleborus orientalis plants are perennials. The leaves are evergreen in warm climates. Further north, Helleborus orientalis leaves may still remain green for much of the winter, but they tend to look ratty by the time spring arrives. Fortunately, by then, the new leaves are well on their way.

Characteristics:

My Lenten rose flower begins purple, but then fades to a more subdued light mauve. These Hellebores do also come in other colors (red, yellow, green, blue, pink). When I say "flowers," I really mean "sepals"; the actual flower isn't all that impressive, but it's surrounded by sepals that are quite colorful, especially when they initially appear -- and Leten rose is among the first flowers that come out each year. The sepals are also extremely long-lasting, first emerging in early spring and persisting right through the summer. Lenten rose's foliage is a shiny, dark green. These perennials reach 18"-24" in height.

Planting Zones for Lenten Rose:

Grow Lenten rose flowers in planting zones 4-9. Helleborus orientalis is indigenous to Southern Europe.

Sun and Soil Requirements:

Grow Lenten rose plants in partial shade to full shade. Shade helps preserve the vibrant color of both the sepals and the foliage. Helleborus orientalis prefers a well-drained soil.

Outstanding Characteristics:

Lenten rose flowers are valued for their early-blooming quality, injecting color into the early spring landscape after the wintertime's long reign of browns, grays and whites. They not only usher in spring but also bestow upon it their stamp of approval, nodding their flower heads down to the spring earth as if to say, "Job well done." I sometimes wish, however, that they'd pay more attention to me and look me in the face, so that I wouldn't have to contort my body in an effort to behold their countenance.

Besides early blooming, two almost equally salient traits are the persistence of Lenten rose's trademark sepals, plus the beauty and longevity of its leathery, evergreen (or virtually evergreen) leaves.

Caveats in Growing Lenten Rose:

All parts of Lenten rose plants are toxic. In fact, I've heard of cases where especially susceptible people have developed a mild skin irritation after an extensive period of handling these poisonous plants without garden gloves.

Uses for Helleborus Orientalis:

Reputedly a deer-resistant plant, Lenten rose may be a logical choice in areas infested by deer pests. When they re-seed (as these Hellebores are wont to do) and spread, the attractive foliage of Lenten rose plants make them gorgeous ground covers. In fact, Lenten rose will naturalize under the right conditions. As with hostas, the shade tolerance of these Hellebores make them perfect for woodland gardens. Even though the intensity of their color diminishes as summer approaches and is entirely faded by fall, I still value the persistence of Lenten rose's sepals: they're a constant in the garden for some 6 months!

Care for Lenten Rose:

As mentioned above, the new foliage emerges just in time in early spring to supplant the old leaves, which may be tattered by this time. For aesthetic purposes, trim off the old leaves when the "reinforcements" arrive. Amend the soil with compost to improve the vigor of your Lenten rose plants. Divide clumps in spring to propagate Lenten rose.

Origin, Meaning of the Names, "Lenten Rose" and "Christmas Rose":

In relatively mild climates, Helleborus niger may bloom in winter -- thus the name, "Christmas rose." There is a legend of the Christmas rose that is very similar to that for poinsettias.

Helleborus orientalis, meanwhile, may bloom in early spring, around the time of the Christian season of Lent. Likewise, "Pasque flower" is so named because it blooms around Eastertime in some locales (Pasque being the Old French for "Easter").

Both bear "flower buds" that resemble rose buds (see picture above), thus the "rose" part of the name.


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