When the whole garden is hibernating, the Christmas rose with its dark green leaves and radiant flowers brings a big smile to your face.
It’s always spectacular: a garden plant that produces stunning snow white flowers in winter. The Christmas rose’s official name is Helleborus niger. Between November and March the plant treats you to buds and large, flat flowers with a beautiful crown at their heart. The leaves are dark green, sometimes with slightly grey film, and feel a bit leathery. The Christmas rose is unaffected by snow or frost. Although the plant droops worryingly when it’s frosty, it will recover of its own accord when the temperatures rise again. Meanwhile the Christmas rose carries on flowering, both in beds and in pots and containers. It’s a tough cookie!
Alongside the white version on which the flowers develop a green undertone as a harbinger of spring, there are also other colours, such as those of the Helleborus orientalis. This garden plant is also evergreen, but produces flowers that range from white, yellow and apricot through the pink, dark purple and spotted.
In the wild the Christmas rose grows 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/physician Melampus wrote about it. The plant travelled to the United States with immigrants, where this winter-flowering plant has come to symbolise pioneering and survival.
- The name Helleborus derives from the Greek words ‘helein’ (kill) and ‘bora’ (food): a warning that the plant is poisonous.
- Despite the name, the Christmas rose is actually a member of the ranunculus family
- According to an ancient legend the first Christmas rose is said to have appeared in Bethlehem from the tears of a poor shepherd. He had no gift for the baby Jesus, and this meant that he could still give him flowers.
- Helleborus plays a role in many folktales. In the Middle Ages, people scattered the flowers on the floor of their houses in order to keep evil spirits away. They blessed their animals with the Christmas rose, but also believed that witches used the plants for their curses and that wizards used it to make themselves invisible.