Lenten Rose hints at the approach of spring

Daylight hours lengthen as spring draws closer and closer, which makes us think of the approach of the Easter season. The Lenten Rose is the eponymous plant that reflects the 40 days before the arrival of Easter.

Due to its late winter, the early spring blooming period is also known as winter or Christmas rose. Each are flowering hellebores, herbaceous, evergreen perennials in the buttercup family.

There are at least 15 species of hellebores and many often misidentified hybrids in the horticultural trade. The specific epitaph for the Lenten Rose in the attached photo is Helleborus × ballardiae (heh-li-BORE-us ba-LAR-dee-aye-ee). This hybrid is part of the HGC Merlin series protected by US Patent #22350.


The name Helleborus comes from the Greek helein, which means hurt, and bora, which means food; combined, they refer to the toxicity of the foliage when the plant is eaten. For humans, the toxic alkaloids of hellebores can irritate sensitive skin, but the positive property of toxic alkaloids is that the plant is considered resistant to rabbits and deer.

The Lenten Rose is a lovely harbinger of spring. The plant grows to a height of 12 to 24 inches and produces copious blooms of nodding flower spikes that burst from leathery, dark green succulent leaves borne on stiff, fleshy stems. The leaves may be mottled with light silvery patterns. Mature plantings can spread up to 24 inches.

Flower spikes emerge from the rhizomes in late winter or early spring. The flowers can vary from white, whitish green, cream, cream tinged with pink, pinkish gray, purple to almost black.

The floral morphology of Hellebores is complex. Walking from the outermost structures to the center of the flower, the showy structures that resemble colored petals are a modified calyx (KAY-licks) consisting of five overlapping fleshy sepals. The sepals enclose the petals, stamens and pistils. Resting on the colored ring of sepals is a ring of cup-shaped or tube-shaped open nectaries which are in fact the petals.

Modified petals contain nectar. Inside the ring of petals is a whorl of many yellow stamens that contain yellow pollen. In the center of the stamens are the female parts, which have up to seven pistils. Emerging from the green ovaries of the pistils, slender white styles are topped with stigmas. Once pollination and fertilization have taken place, the stamens and petals shrivel, leaving swollen ovaries which, when ripe, contain unusual seed pods. When ripe, the sepals turn cranberry-grey and remain showy for several months.

Lenten Rose is drought tolerant after establishment. It is effective in shady containers, rock gardens and borders when massed. Lenten Rose is hardy in USDA zones 9 through 5, surviving down to -20°F with winter protection.

The beautiful blooming Lenten Rose marks a lovely start to the Easter season.

Note: some information from perennials.com; plants.ces.ncsu.edu

Ellen Peffley taught horticulture at the college level for 28 years, 25 of them at Texas Tech, during which time she developed two varieties of onions. She is now the sole owner of From the Garden, a vegetable farm. You can email him at [email protected]

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