Prized for their abundant winter or early spring blooms and attractive foliage, Hellebores (Helleborus) are invaluable additions to the shade garden and provide gardeners with some of the greatest pleasures in winter. Ranked by some among the top 10 high-performance perennials, these harbingers of spring are tough, cold-hardy, deer or rabbit resistant and easy to grow perennials. Most Hellebores enjoy an evergreen foliage which remains handsome year-round and provides multi-season interest.

There are 17 Hellebore species. Most are native to the mountainous regions of Europe, especially the Balkan region of the former Yugoslavia, south along the eastern Adriatic to Greece and Turkey. Many of the species have been interbred, producing countless hybrid Hellebores in a rich array of colors and forms. Find the four Hellebore varieties that are the most popular and easiest to grow.

Helleborus argutifolius (Corsican Hellebore)

  • A robust native of Corsica and Sardinia, Helleborus argutifolius (Corsican Hellebore) is an evergreen perennial with large open clusters of up to thirty, large, nodding, pale green flowers with a central boss of equally green stamens.
  • Blooming heavily from late winter to early summer, these charming beauties rise on sturdy, thick stems clad with large blue-green leaves divided into three sharply toothed leaflets.
  • This Hellebore grows quickly in a clump, up to 2-3 ft. tall and wide (60-90 cm), and is more sun tolerant than others. Although it is usually not long lived (4-5 years), it self-seeds and keeps its cool presence in the garden. 
  • This plant is hardy through Zone 6-9, but the leaves can suffer some winter damage.
  • Received the prestigious Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.

Helleborus foetidus (Stinking Hellebore)

  • Unjustly named Stinking Hellebore,Helleborus foetidus provides gardeners with some of the greatest pleasures in winter. This evergreen perennial features large, open clusters of cheerful chartreuse, bell-shaped flowers, 1 in. wide (2 cm), edged with dark red. The buds begin to appear in early winter and provide interest as they open slowly over the next three months.
  • Blooming profusely from late winter to mid spring, the flowers rise on sturdy, erect stems above a handsome foliage of leathery, narrow, fan-like (palmately divided), dark green leaves. Flowers and bruised foliage are unpleasantly aromatic, releasing a moderately rank, grassy smell - thus the common name.
  • Drought-tolerant, Helleborus foetidus is also one of the finest perennials for dry shade. This is one of the hardiest (Zone 5-9) and most versatile of all Hellebores.
  • This Hellebore grows slowly in a clump, up to 2 ft. tall (60 cm) and mature plants spread 3 ft. across (90 cm). Although this perennial is usually not long lived, it will often self-seed and remain in the garden.
  • Received the prestigious Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.

Helleborus niger (Christmas Rose)

  • Native to the mountains of southern and central Europe, Helleborus niger, commonly called Christmas Rose, is a winter-blooming evergreen perennial with large, bowl-shaped, glistening white flowers, 3 in. across (8 cm), adorned with a crown of showy golden-yellow stamens. The sepals slowly fade to green or rosy-pink as they mature. Unlike most hellebores, the flowers face outward attracting interest.
  • The attractive blooms are borne on short, thick stems and generally do not rise above the foliage of palmate, deeply-lobed, dark green leaves.
  • Christmas Roses open around Christmas time in warm winter areas, and in early spring in cooler winter regions. Helleborus niger is also a very popular cut flower!
  • This Hellebore grows in a bushy, upright clump, up to 8-12 in. tall (20-30 cm) and 12-18 in. across (30-45 cm). This plant may self-seed sparingly in satisfactory growing conditions.
  • This species needs some winter chill to thrive and is best grown in Zones 3-8. Its evergreen leaves may suffer winter damage.

Helleborus orientalis (Lenten Roses)

  • Helleborus orientalis, commonly called Lenten Rose because it blooms during Lent, is native to the dry climates of Greece and Turkey. It is claimed to be the most colorful and floriferous species in the genus. The large flowers come in many colors from a creamy white to a dusky plum. They nod gracefully and dangle with poise from the stalks well above the foliage. Garden worthy, Helleborus orientalis is extremely hard to find in its pure form, as the plant hybridizes freely in the garden.
  • Most of the plants sold in nurseries as Helleborus orientalis are actually hybrids between that species and several others. These Lenten Roses are now referred to as garden hybrids (Helleborus x hybridus). They are widely available today in a terrific range of sizes, leaf shapes, and flower forms (single semi-double, full double, anemone) and colors (white through pink, purple to yellow, with or without picotee, spots and freckles), giving Helleborus orientalis and its hybrids preeminent status among Hellebores.
  • Mature plants often have 50 or more flowers per plant, which last up to 2 months. The evergreen leaves are divided into 7 to 9 segments and provide year round interest.
  • Lenten Roses form clumps up to 18-24 in. tall (45-60 cm) and 24 in. wide (60 cm). 
  • Hardy to USDA 4-9, Lenten Roses are tough plants that only require occasional watering after they become established plantings. They are easily grown in well-drained, humus-rich and fertile garden soil in light shade.
  • They are the easiest of all Hellebores to transplant and spread quickly.
  • The Perennial Plant Association chose H. x hybridus as the 2005 Perennial Plant of the Year.

But rather than let these charming beauties lonesomely bloom in a bare patch, give them companion plants and layer your plantings for maximum drama. Learn how to extend the season of interest of your borders