The hellebore is a rustic perennial plant that grows spontaneously in the undergrowth, and is used for decorative purposes because of its ease of cultivation and its simple beauty.

Hellebore has the particularity of blooming in winter temperatures and can, therefore, decorate your garden or your balcony when the other plants are bare. It is also a very resistant species and survives temperatures below zero.

Hellebore is a genus belonging to the family Ranunculaceae and is native to Central Europe, the Caucasus and Asia Minor.

It was already well known in ancient times, especially for its ability to cure mental illnesses and is still used today in herbal medicine and the medical industry. It is actually a toxic plant and highly irritating to humans and animals, because it contains a high amount of alkaloids, especially in the roots.

For this reason, it is best to wash your hands thoroughly after handling it, even better to use gloves, and especially place it in a place not accessible to animals and children.

Ellebore: Etymology

In fact, the name hellebore is formed by two Greek words “elos”, which means to kill, and “bolos”, which means to nourish. This is precisely because of the poisonous substances contained in the plant.

Ellebore: Variety

The genus hellebore includes about thirty herbaceous species.

  • In Italy the most widespread is the helleborus niger variety, better known as Christmas Rose, because it looks very much like the dog rose and has a winter bloom, during the Christmas period.
  • Helleborus viridis, or green hellebore, a variety of wild hellebore that grows wild in northern Italy.
  • Helleborus Argutifolius, or Corsica hellebore, the smallest variety.
  • Helleborus foetidus, the stinky hellebore, which gives off a strong smell if its leaves are torn off.
  • Helleborus lividus, which owes its name to the dark colour of its leaves with sharp edges.
  • Helleborus orientalis, the most delicate variety, more subject to virus or parasite attacks.
  • Helleborus purpurescens, with very particular purple flowers on the outside and green on the inside.
  • Helleborus abchasicus, also characterised by purple flowers which lighten inwards.

Ellebore: Botanical Characteristics

The hellebore reaches a height of 30 cm and has thick, vigorous dark green foliage. It blooms towards December and its flowering lasts until March. The flowers are large, single or grouped in clusters, usually in the colors of white and purple, but there are also varieties pink, cream, bright red.

In the warm months, even if it does not bloom, the plant produces a lot of foliage and creates a beautiful decorative bush.

Ellebore: Cultivation

Hellebore is a very simple plant to grow, it is resistant, tolerates different soils and conditions well, requires little care and lasts many years.

The perfect plant to embellish your garden or decorate your terrace.

  1. The hellebore should be planted at a good depth, in a common garden soil, well worked and enriched with universal soil and manure. It is important that it is well drained, to avoid rottenness at the roots.
  2. The hellebore is to be placed in mid-shade zones. It does not like very sunny places or the direct exposure to the rays of the sun, if not the slight light of the morning.
  3. Watering should be constant and regular, so that the soil always remains fairly moist, especially during the winter months when the plant develops.
  4. Once or twice a year, the plant can be supplied with a slow release granular fertilizer.

Ellebore: Cultivation in Pots

The hellebore can also be grown in pots, but it needs a wide and deep container, where it can develop its roots.

The cares and the attentions are the same for the specimens cultivated in open air and, therefore, the best thing is, in any case, to keep it on a balcony, but not in the direct sun, because the too high temperature of the house and the scarce humidity are not good for the plant.

Last Curiosities

Over the centuries, many legends have been born around the hellebore, its healing properties and its winter flowering.

The oldest legends have been handed down to us by Greek mythology, where it is said that Hercules, made mad by Juno, comes to his senses by eating the leaves of the hellebore plant.

But also Melampo, a soothsayer and healer descending from none other than Aeolus, healed the son of the king of Tiryns from madness, making him drink the milk of goats that had eaten hellebore leaves.

The Christian tradition, on the other hand, leads back to the origin of the hellebore plant to the visit of the Three Kings to Jesus. When the gifts arrived, there was a poor shepherdess around the cave who, seeing the precious gifts brought to the Child, was ashamed to have nothing to offer and began to cry in despair. So it was that from his tears that fell to the ground, beautiful white flowers with golden anthers were born: the Christmas roses.