Lenten rose (Helleborus x hybridus) is not a rose, but rather a perennial belonging to the buttercup family. As a group, the Helleborus species and hybrids, including Lenten rose, are known as hellebores. The two-part common name of Lenten rose refers to the plant's bloom season (around Lent) and the rose-like shape of its flower buds.
Lenten rose is a hybrid plant, bred from crossing H. orientalis with other closely related species to improve the flowers. Valued for its early blooms of purple, red, yellow, green, blue, lavender, and pink, and its leathery evergreen foliage, the Lenten rose contributes good color throughout the growing season.
The flowers—actually sepals, which are similar to petals but longer-lasting—are large (3 to 4 inches in diameter) and hang downward in clusters from thick stems that rise above the foliage. In addition to the color variations, there may be variations in markings, such as margins of a different color, showy freckling, or veining. Flowering initially occurs near ground level, below last year's leaves.
Lenten rose is normally planted from nursery seedlings which will flower in their first year. Grown from seeds, Lenten rose takes two or three years to mature into a flowering plant. Hellebores can be planted in early fall or late spring and have a long eight- to 10-week bloom period. When they reseed and spread to fill in an area, their attractive foliage makes them a gorgeous ground cover. Lenten rose will also naturalize under the right conditions. But if you wish to keep your Lenten roses as single specimens, well-established seedlings can be transplanted to another part of your garden.
|Botanical Name||Helleborus x hybridus|
|Common Name||Lenten rose|
|Plant Type||Evergreen perennial|
|Mature Size||18–24 inches tall, 18 inches wide|
|Sun Exposure||Part shade|
|Soil Type||Rich, moist, well-draining|
|Flower Color||Purple, red, yellow, green, blue, lavender, or pink|
|Hardiness Zones||4–9 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Southern Europe|
|Toxicity||Toxic to people and animals|
Lenten Rose Care
Lenten roses are one of the easiest plants to grow. Keeping the soil moist and mulching in early winter will encourage the plants to grow, but once established, hellebores can tolerate drier conditions. Plant them in early fall or late spring in a partially or fully shady spot, but keep them sheltered from harsh winter winds.
Many gardeners like to take full advantage of this perennial's early-blooming quality by locating it in a spot where it is easily viewed, such as in a planting bed near a porch or shady patio. As with hosta plants, their shade tolerance makes Lenten rose plant perfect for woodland gardens. Even though their color becomes less vibrant as summer approaches and is entirely faded by fall, one can still value the persistence of Lenten rose's sepals. They are a constant in the garden for about six months.
One of the best perennials for shade, hellebores will retain their vibrant sepals and foliage without a lot of sun. An ideal location for hellebores is under the canopy of a deciduous tree, which provides shade in the summer but loses its leaves in winter.
Helleborus plants prefer a moist but not constantly wet soil, which can invite disease. Provide enough water to keep the soil moist during prolonged periods of hot and dry weather but once established, hellebores can tolerate dry conditions.
Temperature and Humidity
Although its foliage is evergreen, hellebores may become scorched and tattered in extremely harsh winters. Protect the plants from cold winds with a light fabric covering or cold frame.
Regularly amending your soil with organic matter is enough for the hellebore, but for larger plants, you can fertilize with a balanced fertilizer in early spring as new foliage is beginning to emerge.
Is Lenten Rose Toxic?
Like all members of the Hellebore genus, all parts of a Lenten rose plant contain protoanemonin, a toxin that causes a variety of skin and gastrointestinal problems. It is listed as a class 1 (major toxicity) plant by poison control agencies. Death of humans is relatively rare, since large quantities need to be ingested, but death of dogs, cats, and grazing animals is not uncommon. Skin contact can usually be treated by thoroughly washing the skin and applying topical ointments, but if any plant parts are eaten, call your poison control agency immediately.
Symptoms of Poisoning
In humans, skin contact can cause itch, rashes, and blistering. Ingestion of any plant parts can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, spasms, hepatitis, jaundice, or paralysis. Ingestion of large amounts can result in death.
Dogs, cats, and horses that ingest the plants may experience drooling, abdominal pain and diarrhea, colic, and depression. Milder symptoms usually dissipate within 24 hours but poisoning can be considerably more serious if large quantities are ingested. If you suspect your pet has eaten a large quantity of Lenten rose, seek veterinary care.
Lenten Rose Varieties
There are relatively few named cultivars of lenten rose. The available cultivars are bred to offer different bloom colors, but the basic plant form is identical:
- 'Red Lady': This cultivar offers single petal flowers in a deep red hue.
- Pink Lady: This single-petal flower is white with a pink blush.
- 'Mrs. Betty Ranicar': This variety has heavy double-petal blooms in a snow-white color.
- 'Windcliff Double Pink': This variety offers stunning double pink flowers and mounded foliage.
Lenten Rose vs. Other Hellebores
In addition to the lenten rose varieties derived from H. orientalis, there are other hellebores you might want to consider:
- Helleborus niger 'Christmas Rose': Despite its name, this variety usually blooms in late winter; white flowers, sometimes flushed with pink.
- Helleborus argutifolius 'Corsican hellebore': This plant is commonly seen on roadsides in Corsica and Sardinia, and known for its coarse but bold evergreen foliage
Lenten rose is among the easiest plants to propagate, with several methods for doing so.
- Plant clumps can be dug up and divided in spring. Make sure each clump has a good root section as well as above-ground stems. These sections will likely develop into blooming plants in the first season.
- Lenten rose freely self-seeds, and you can carefully dig up small seedlings and transplant them anywhere you wish. These seedlings may not bloom the first year but usually do by the second year.
- Seeds collected from flower heads can be saved for planting the following spring. You can expect to wait two to three years for seeds to develop into flowering plants.
Once the flowers have started to brown at the tips, a lenten rose should be cut back to the base of the plant. Allow the evergreen foliage to continue throughout winter until the blossoms begin to expand, at which time browned and ragged foliage should be removed at the base.
Common Pests/ Diseases
Lenten roses are a deer-resistant plant but they are occasionally susceptible to leaf spot and crown rot. Preventative fungicides can be used early in the growing season to reduce fungal infections. Proper spacing will also help prevent fungal diseases from spreading among plants.
Major, Maria Cornelia, Dobrota, Cristina. Natural Compounds With Important Medical Potential Found in Helleborus sp. Central European Journal of Biology, 8, 3, 272-285, 2013, doi:10.2478/s11535-013-0129-x
Helleborus orientalis. North Caroline State University Extension
Helleborus orientalis. Missouri Botanical Garden