Monday, 15 January 2018


Recently a friend, speaking of Hellebores, said to me, 'You either love them or hate them.' I made a non-committal sort of reply but I admit that, on the whole, they don't appeal to me. But hate them? No. Their flowers do have an attractive simplicity and were they April- or May-flowering I would perhaps grow more. According to various sources the flowers are visited by early bees and other insects but I have rarely witnessed this and, with one exception, I don't grow them.
Only a few days ago I saw Helleborus foetidus in a nearby garden (and mentioned it in a blog). Apparently it is occasionally cultivated and, being a native of Northamptonshire it has a certain interest but it is hardly a show-stopper.

Stinking Hellebore in a Daventry garden. 11 January, 2018

A couple of years ago Chris and I received a nice pot of flowering plants from an old friend and among them was a variegated hellebore. After the various plants had flowered I planted it, and its companions, around the garden; the hellebore has survived and, indeed, flourished. It is currently flowering and looking rather attractive.
A hybrid hellebore blooms in our back garden at Stefen Hill, Daventry.
14 January, 2018

Unfortunately it wasn't labelled but it may be Helleborus x ballardiae, a hybrid whose parents are H.niger and H. lividus, but plant breeders have introduced many new hybrids in recent years so I am by no means sure. It is another of those species, common in the buttercup family (to which it belongs) whose 'petals' are really petaloid sepals. Furthermore, they are very persistent, remaining long after true petals would have fallen.
The flowers have a simple structure.
I mentioned the simplicity of the flowers and this suggests that they are quite primitive among the flowering plants. In this context 'primitive' is not a pejorative term but suggests that the structure of the flower is closer to the original or ancestral form. Some 'modern' flowers are very intricate, with zygomorphic (bilaterally symmetrical) structures with various elaborate features. But the Buttercup family, like the Magnolias for example, has flowers composed of whorls of structures - a whorl of sepals on the outside enclosing a whorl of petals; inside again is a whorl of stamens and, at the heart, simple female organs. Schoolteachers love them because - except where petaloid sepals (tepals)  confuse matters - the organs of the flower are straightforward and understandable to students. What a contrast to the complications of orchids. (In fact, without going into technical detail, buttercups are not as 'primitive' as they appear but do have that primitive 'look' of the Magnolias.) 
On the face of it the word helleborus may seem odd. The genus has poisonous properties that people have probably been aware of since humans were simply hunter-gatherers and yet the second part of the word is derived from the Greek bora, meaning 'food'. However the first part of the word - also Greek - comes from elein, to injure and clearly refers to the plant's highly poisonous nature: it is an injurious food.

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