Helleborus x hybridus (Royal Heritage Strain)

Taisha is the author and photographer for today’s entry. She writes:

Helleborus x hybridus (Royal Heritage Strain) is a welcome harbinger of spring here at UBC Botanical Garden, blooming now in the European Woodland section of the E.H. Lohbrunner Alpine Garden. Because they often flower in mid-winter, members of this genus are commonly named Christmas or Lenten roses. They are not true roses, belonging instead to the buttercup family or Ranunculaceae–a family containing many early-spring flowering species.

Helleborus is a genus of about twenty herbaceous perennial species, most of which are grown for their ornamental value. Helleborus x hybridus (Royal Heritage Strain) is a hybrid strain of seed with a wide variety of colours and tones in the sepals of the nodding blossoms. Leathery serrated leaves subtend the flowers and are spread along the thick stem.

Enjoying the sights of early blooms is one thing, but one can also wonder about the reasons behind early-spring blossoms. Phenology in plants is the study of lifecycle events (like flowering) and how the timing of such events are influenced by climate and environmental conditions. These conditions could include such things as temperature, length of day, elevation, disturbance, and competition from neighbours. Despite the potential drawbacks to blooming early such as tissue damage from fluctuating and sub-zero temperatures or few active pollinators, there are some adaptive advantages to flowering a little earlier than other adjacent plants. For example, early blooming plants may have increased exposure to light in the early days of the year before deciduous trees leaf out and other species grow up around it. This is particularly advantageous for hellebores, which are generally woodland species.

With regard to pollinators in the late winter or early spring: yes, it is likely that only a few are active. However, those few only have a limited amount of flowers to choose from and visit, so the advantage to being an early-spring flowering species is that there are few other competitors attempting to attract pollinators. For Helleborus spp., the number of insect visits (often bumblebees or Bombus spp.) is primarily determined by flower display and density. Evidence also suggests that early blossoms favor out-crossing. With fewer overall blossoms in early spring, pollinators must travel greater distances and therefore disperse genes over greater distances. Although the flowers of Helleborus are functionally hermaphroditic (protogynous) and self-compatible, a little pollen from a flower farther away may result in progeny that have additional frost- or disease-resistance.

Helleborus x hybridus (Royal Heritage Strain)

7 responses to “Helleborus x hybridus (Royal Heritage Strain)”

  1. Geri

    Thanks for this Photo of the Day. I have a population of this Helleborus in my yard and really appreciate your insights about genetic diversity and early flowering. Our plants have abundant progeny but now I will be looking around for bumblebees to see if any out-crossing is taking place. The first flowers opened this week.

  2. michael aman

    Geri, what region do you live in? Here in Upstate New York my hellebores are still under two feet of snow with nights dropping to 10 degrees or lower.

  3. Alexander Jablanczy

    This is a very thorough and informative botanical description. However hellebore implies to me one of the traditional poisonous plants which of course would be of some import and a necessary caveat. Ranunculus is mildly toxic but hellebore is lethal as far as I know.
    Yes it turns out that hellebore is indeed toxic to humans and ranunculus to cattle.
    But I couldn’t find a Shakespeare reference I remember vaguely.

  4. Anne

    My various Hellebores are blooming this week in Central California, and in the past few years I have not seen evidence of reseeding…
    It was 73 degrees here this evening, and we had a Valentine’s cocktail party on a friend’s deck. It was lovely, warmer than our typical summer weather, but we are anxious for more rain.

  5. Gary Lewis

    Thanks, Daniel and UBC for this hellebore installment on the eve of our Hellebore Hurrah! Opening Weekend. I’m sure it was just a coincidence. ;-). The Royal Heritage strain is a good entry level strain, particularly good for those just getting to know the genus. Superior strains are the Winter Thrillers then the Mardi Gras and then, best of all, the Winter Jewels strains. As you move up the ladder you get progeny from carefully hand pollinated crosses resulting in plants with better flower form, colour depth, detailing and symmetry. Or try the tissue cultured Spring Promise series.
    Cheers, Gary
    Phoenix Perennials

  6. Jessica

    Thank you for the entry on Hellebores. They are beautiful reminders that, despite the wintry weather, spring is on its way. I’ve been intending to try some in my New York City garden, so I thank you, Gary, for your recommendations about various strains. I think the leaves are beautiful, too….a real year-’round winner. 🙂

  7. Danielle CUYX

    If you want to see more helleborus, go on the website of Sandrine & Thierry DELABROYE which are living in Hantay, Nord of France. They have thousand of wonderfull helleborus.
    http://www.mytho-fleurs.com/les_vivaces_de_sandrine_et_thierry.htm

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