When the whole garden is hibernating, the Christmas rose with its dark green foliage and radiant flowers ensures that there’s still plenty going on when you look out of the window.
It’s always spectacular, a garden plant that produces fabulous snow-white flowers in the winter. The Christmas rose is officially called Helleborus niger, and treats you to buds and large, flat flowers with a fabulous crown at their heart from November to March. The leaves are dark green with sometimes a slight grey shimmer and feel a bit leathery. Snow and frost have no effect on the Christmas rose. The plant does droop when it freezes but will recover of its own accord when the temperatures go back up. Meanwhile the Christmas rose continues to bloom, both in the soil and in pots and containers.
Colour in your winter garden
Alongside the white version, the flowers of which take on a green tinge as the winter draws to a close as a harbinger of spring, there are also other colours, such as those of Helleborus orientalis. This garden plant is also evergreen but with flowers ranging from white, yellow and apricot to pink, dark purple and even spotted. The Christmas rose is available in various sizes, ranging from small enough for a hanging basket to a 60 cm high shrub which requires a substantial pot or room in the soil. In the latter case the Helleborus can cope with temperatures as low as -20°C.
In the wild the Christmas rose can be found in mountainous regions of Central and Southern Europe and Asia Minor. The first known mention of the plant dates from 1400 BC, when the soothsayer and healer Melampus wrote about it. The plant accompanied emigrants to America, where the winter-flowering plant symbolises pioneering and survival.
Christmas rose trivia
● The name comes from the Greek words 'helein' (deadly) and 'bora' (food), a warning that the plant is poisonous.
● Despite the name, the Christmas rose is actually a member of the ranunculus family.
● An old legend tells that the first Christmas rose appeared in Bethlehem from the tears of a poor shepherd who had no gift for the baby Jesus, and was able to give Him flowers as a result.
● Helleborus plays a part in many folk tales. In the Middle Ages people scattered the flowers on the floor of their houses to keep away evil spirits. They blessed their animals with Christmas roses, but at the same time believed that witches used the plant for their curses and that wizards could make themselves invisible with it.