Lenten rose is among the few garden perennials that open their flowers as early as February, bringing color into the winter gray.
Profile of lenten rose:
Scientific name: Helleborus Orientalis (Hybrids)
Plant family: buttercup family (Ranunculaceae)
Other names: lenten hellebore, oriental hellebore
Sowing time: autumn
Planting time: spring, after flowering
Flowering period: February to April
Location: partially shady
Soil quality: sandy to loamy, calcipholous, nutrient rich, humus rich
These information are for temperate climate!
Use in: flowerbeds, garden fences, group planting, planters, underplanting, overgrowing, borders, apothecary garden, cottage garden, flower garden, roof garden, park, rock garden, forest garden
Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 6 (-20 °C / -5 °F)
Bee and insect friendly: Yes
Plant characteristics and classification of lenten rose
Plant order, origin and occurrence of lenten rose
Lenten roses (Helleborus Orientalis hybrids) are the result of crossbreeding the wild lenten roses (Helleborus orientalis), also called Oriental hellebore, with various other species of the genus Helleborus. It belongs to the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). The former has its natural range in the Near East from Turkey to the Caucasus. The name Orientalis-Hybrids has become naturalized, although many varieties now have more than two parent species and should therefore simply be called Helleborus-Hybrids. For example, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between the newer Christmas rose cultivars (Helleborus niger) and the modern Orientalis hybrids.
In contrast to the white flowering Christmas roses or winter roses (Helleborus niger), with which the Orientalis hybrids are often confused anyway, Lenten roses are extremely uncomplicated and long-lived. In addition to their long flowering period, Lenten roses are valued for the variability of their petals with different colors and patterns. A single plant can combine the characteristics of different wild species.
The pulverized rhizome of the plants was formerly used to make sneezing powder or snuff, which was supposed to dispel dizziness and strengthen memory.
As early as 300 B.C., the lenten rose was mentioned in herbal books, because even then it was already known for its healing properties, but also for its poisonousness. Among other things, the rootstock was used in powder form as a heart strengthening and urine-driving agent. People who have a slight allergic reaction should be careful when cutting the flower stems, because the sap that emerges can cause severe skin irritation.
Characteristics of lenten rose
Lenten rose are long-lived, wintergreen perennials. They grow relatively slowly and can grow up to 50 centimeters (20 in) high.
The conspicuously leathery leaves of Lenten roses are basal and usually finger-shaped. The five to eleven fan-like arranged leaves are inversely ovate to lanceolate and have a double serrated leaf edge. They are light green when shooting and become darker in the course of summer. After the new leaves have sprouted, the old leaves die.
The terminal flowers of Lenten roses usually have five petals, have a diameter of up to 10 cm and are greenish at the base. There are varieties with white, cream yellow and pink to black-red flowers. Some also show a colored pattern on a white background. Double flowers are also available. The flowers are characteristically drooping downwards and, depending on the weather, usually appear from February, but often earlier. When withering, the petals turn green.
Lenten roses are pollinated by insects and develop small follicles after flowering. In suitable locations they seed themselves.
Lenten rose – cultivation and care
Once properly planted, Lenten roses will keep coming back for decades. They feel most comfortable in partially shady areas under larger deciduous trees and shrubs. They can only tolerate full sun if the soil has sufficient moisture.
Lenten rose love fresh and well-drained, very humus rich clay soils. Like Christmas roses, they like high lime content in the soil, but are much more acid tolerant than those.
The best planting time for Lenten roses is the spring after flowering. Remove all flower stems from freshly planted specimens, then they will grow stronger in the first year and take root faster. The planting distance should be at least 15 centimeters, because the plants become quite wide when they are old. The planting hole should be twice the size of the rootball, and the soil must be well loosened. Sandy, rather acidic soils should be improved with plenty of leaf humus and garden compost before planting. A mulch layer ensures that the soil remains evenly moist.
Lenten rose likes permanently moist conditions in the substrate. It survives short dry periods, but reacts to this with fewer flowers. As soon as the top layer of soil has dried out, you should water the plant.
With the finger test you can check the moisture in the substrate. If the soil feels dry and crumbly, the lenten rose needs fresh water. During the summer droughts you should check the moisture content several times a day. Lenten roses tolerate water with small amounts of lime. Waterlogging should be avoided as it leads to root rot.
Helleborus hybrids are considered to be light feeder. To support their vitality, you can fertilize them occasionally. If the plant is about to flower, it will be happy to receive compost or rock flour fertilizer between February and May, you can also use a liquid fertilizer if necessary.
In autumn, you can spread brushwood, bark mulch or withered leaves on the ground. This layer acts as a protection against cold for young plants and provides the plant with nutrients the following spring, when the soil organisms have decomposed the material. If your lenten rose grows on sandy soils, you can spread some algal lime on the substrate in autumn.
After the winter, withered leaves are removed. Be careful with this care measure so that you do not damage the freshly sprouting plant parts. Brown or black leaves should be cut off immediately to prevent the spread of diseases. After flowering, it is recommended to cut off the ripening fruit.
Adult plants can be propagated by division, but the yield of growable plants is low. Lenten roses then need a lot of time and good care to grow back into stately plants. If you want to divide your plant, you should choose a cloudy day in autumn. Spring is not suitable for this measure because the plant flowers very early.
To avoid unnecessary injuries during this measure, you should tie the stems and leaves together with a strap. Prick off a root ball as large as possible and dig it out. Use a digging fork to pierce the middle of the root ball. Attach another pitchfork and carefully move both garden tools apart. This will tear open the rhizome until two separate plants are created. If your spring rose is still somewhat smaller, you can divide the rhizome with a knife.
Proceed as follows after dividing the rhizome:
- Plant the sections immediately so that the roots do not dry out
- water thoroughly, so that the rootstock is soaked 10 to 15 centimeters deep
- remove damaged leaves to prevent diseases
It can take between three and four years until a plant is in full bloom for the first time. Once the plant has successfully developed fruit, you can propagate your lenten rose by seed. These offspring are often less flowering than their parent plant.
Harvest the fruits immediately after ripening. You can recognize ripe fruits by their yellow-green color. At this point they can be easily opened so that you can release the seeds from their capsules. Clean the seeds and let them dry. If you sow the seeds in autumn, they will start germinating in November.
Diseases and pests
Lenten roses are relatively insensitive to plant diseases and pests. Occasionally the black spot disease, a fungal disease, can occur. It is characterized by brown to black spots on the leaves, which grow larger over time. In the case of susceptible varieties, the old leaves should be cut off in autumn as a precaution.
Lenten roses are hardy down to -20 °C / -5 °F. Young specimens need winter protection. Put a layer of compost or bark mulch on the ground. Adult lenten roses are hardy. The early flowering species survive the winter without problems. In older plants, mulching serves to supply nutrients in the coming spring.
When the thermometer falls below −15,0 °C / +5 °F, the leaves die. They turn black and look unappealing. This does not cause any problems for the plant. It sprouts again shortly before flowering. On frost-free days, the plant must be watered, as the metabolism is not completely stopped even in winter.
This is how you protect potted plants:
- Wrap the planter in October with sackcloth, fleece or foil
- Place bucket on a polystyrene plate
- water on frost-free days
Toxicity of lenten rose
Lenten rose is considered highly poisonous in all parts of the plant. It contains the heart-active saponin helleborine and protoanemonin. The concentration of toxins is highest in the rootstock. Various symptoms of poisoning can occur after consumption. The symptoms range from nausea and dizziness to diarrhea, inflammation of the oral mucosa and cardiac arrhythmia. Consumption of large quantities leads to respiratory paralysis, which can be fatal.
Three mature seed capsules are sufficient to cause severe symptoms of poisoning. The plant sap has skin-irritating effects. You should therefore plant the plant only with caution when pets or children play in your garden.
Use in the garden
Lenten roses are best shown to advantage in the garden when varieties with different flower colors are combined. Suitable planting partners include a wide variety of bulbous flowers, early perennials such as lungwort and spring-flowering shrubs with red, blue or white flowers. Red-leaved Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) is also a beautiful planting partner, as its foliage bud harmonizes very well with the flower colors of the Lenten roses. It is also possible to cultivate the perennials in tubs on the terrace or balcony. Lenten roses also cut a fine figure in the shady rock garden.
With the cultivations of the lenten rose hardly one resembles its parents. Even among the plants created by self-sowing in the garden, one can always find nameless beauties with unique flower colors and drawings. The palette of flower colors ranges from white to yellow, pink, red, apricot, purple and almost black flowers. There are varieties with single, double or semi-double flowers and also specimens with dotted petals.