Helleborus - Helleborus orientalis

Helleborus - Helleborus orientalis

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This flower was well known since ancient times and held in high esteem for its claimed medicinal properties. The history of the introduction of this vegetable in popular pharmacology is lost in the darkness of the times. In a fable it is said that a shepherd named Melampus, who was at the same time a doctor and a fortune-teller, having observed that his flock was purging when he ate Elleboro, thought of using it as a medicine even in the diseases of men. With this "miraculous" medicine, he could heal the madness that had struck the daughters of Preto, king of Argos, who were believed to have been turned into cows. He was called "Purgatore", an honorary title: he obtained the wedding ring of one of them, a part of the kingdom of Argo and a nomination for divinity.The Latin poet Horace advised to go for the treatment of madness on the island of Anticipa, in which he grew copiously.F.D.Guerrazzi in the cap. XXVI of the "Siege of Florence" exclaimed: "Ah, historian, instead of spending in ink bought Hellebore, you are crazy."The medical virtues of this plant were exaggerated.Carneade used it before writing to Zeno.Gabriele D'Annunzio in "La figlia di Iorio" reiterates it in a poetic key: "Go in search of the black hellebore that makes sense to this creature."Today in India this plant is burned beside the bed of women in labor, to hasten childbirth and because the spirit of the gods enters the mind of the newborn.In fairly recent times it has been banned from pharmacies, considered a highly toxic plant.General features Hellebore

All the species, around 16, belonging to this genus come from Europe, the Middle East and some also from China. Many are those that can be found spontaneously in our country. The most known are: the h. niger, the h. foetidus, the h. viridis, the h. odorus and (only in the islands of the Tyrrhenian) the h. corsicus.
They can generally be divided into two distinct groups. Most are characterized by leaves and inflorescences that emerge separately from the collar. The maximum height in this case rarely exceeds 45 cm. These are very long-lived plants.
The others (for example H. angustifolius, H. lividus, H. x sterni and H. foetidus) have semi-woody stems, up to 1 m high. The flowers, in bunches, and the leaves sprout from the same stems.
The leaves are the most important organ to distinguish the different types. They are supported by a rather thick stem and are divided into leaflets, which can range from a number of 3 to even 100. The diameter of the leaves is also very variable. In the smaller species it can be even only 7 cm, in the larger ones it can reach half a meter instead.
Generally when young, they are very tender and light in color, but over time they become hard and leathery, jagged at the edges, although in different ways, in all species. The color then becomes a rather dark green.
The flowers are arranged in groups. Sometimes they have a single stem and therefore form bunches, at other times there are only two or three flowers accompanied by small leaves.
The single flower is similar to that of the buttercup. Thanks to hybridization, double shapes and many different types of petal are available, from the simplest to the most jagged.
Usually the corollas look downwards and this is one of the defects to which enthusiasts most frequently refer. In recent years, however, thanks to the research work, many cultivars are available on the market characterized by a more upright growth of the flower and, therefore, more decorative.
Moreover, thanks to the crossings we can buy hellebores now in a very wide range of colors ranging from pure white to pink, red, very intense brown to yellow. Let us not forget, however, shapes with spots or with margins in evidence.

Elleboro flowers

The delicate and discreet bell-shaped flowers of the hellebore place it among the most beloved winter plants. By choosing wisely you can have them hellebores in bloom from the beginning of winter to mid-spring.

Cultivation of the Elleboro

The cultivation of the hellebores is rather simple. They grow without difficulty in the garden, provided they respect their needs for soil, exposure and humidity.


Cold is rarely a problem for these plants. They live well from the floor up to 1200 meters above sea level. The Orientals are slightly more sensitive, but apart from particularly cold years (at least -20 ° C) there will be no problems.


All suffer particularly from the heat and sunny exposures. For this reason, in order to grow better, the ideal is that they are positioned under deciduous trees. In this way, in winter, they will have a well-lit position that will stimulate flowering. With the arrival of summer, instead, they will be repaired by the foliage.
Alternatively, it is good to place them at home where there is sun all morning and shade during the afternoon hours.
A good alternative may be the cultivation in pots. This makes it possible to keep the hellebores even in full sun during the winter (and place them in a prominent position at the time of their maximum splendor) and then move them to a shaded and more secluded area.


All species require rich and deep soils. Drainage is of fundamental importance. The substratum in fact must have the ability to always remain fresh, but without exaggeratingly retaining the water causing rot to the extended root system.
The ideal is a medium-textured soil, possibly well-worked and to which a good amount of organic soil conditioner has been added. The best pH is neutral, but the hellebores are able to withstand variations.


They are plants from undergrowth and therefore they need to have a substratum that is always rather humid. Once the plant has freed itself, especially from autumn to spring, it will not need our intervention. During the warm months, however, it will be good to distribute water at least once a week. Let us remember, however, that the more the exposure is sunny, the more frequent our interventions must be.


To have a good flowering it is good to intervene twice a year (once in mid-summer and once in December) distributing a good granular fertilizer for flowering plants.

Crop care

Hellebore does not need great attention. If you want you can intervene at the end of winter to eliminate the old leaves and those damaged by the cold or heat of the previous summer. In this way the plant will have a more orderly appearance and there will be more space for new leaves and flowers. If you want to avoid excessive shedding of seeds and the consequent intrusion of the plant, you can intervene by removing the flowers before they form the capsule.

Hellebore propagation

Propagation can be carried out in different ways.
The only one able to preserve the peculiar characteristics of the cultivar is the division. In fact the cutting is only exceptionally successful.
It is advisable to proceed in autumn by dividing the clumps. We must try to keep the earthen bread around the roots as much as possible because the hellebores suffer terribly when they are handled. We therefore act with the utmost delicacy, inserting the plants into the soil as soon as possible.
Let us also remember to always handle them with gloves because the hypogean part is very poisonous.
Sowing can instead be carried out in sandy soil and covered with mature seeds taken at the beginning-mid summer. Germination occurs most often in the autumn or the following spring. Before seeing a flower, however, it is necessary to wait at least four years.

Pot cultivation

Potted cultivation is not always recommended and to obtain good results you need to devote a lot of attention. First of all the containers must be very deep to allow the correct development of the root system. At the same time it is necessary to prepare an excellent draining layer and a rich compote, but which does not excessively retain water.
In my experience I can say that hybrids live better under these conditions than niger, which usually lasts no more than a winter. But I also saw beautiful vases in which these instead were perfectly adapted.

Helleborus niger

Helleborus niger also known as Christmas rose. It is a low species with dark leathery leaves, 25-30 cm wide, divided into 7-9 leaflets, often toothed towards the apex. The flowers are flat, pure white which, when ripe, take on pink hues. On average the diameter is 5-8 cm. It flowers between January and March. Those that flowered during the Christmas period were forced. It must be kept clean because the large leaves often hide the flowers. It is not easy to cultivate and usually has a short life.

Helleborus orientalis

Helleborus orientalis Originally from the mountains of the Caucasus and Turkey, it is a dense-head perennial with large dark, evergreen leaves about 40 cm in diameter divided into 7-11 segments. The flowers are present from February to April, of white-greenish color. It grows well both in full sun and in shade, as long as a lot of humidity is available. The subspecies guttans is characterized by greenish-white flowers variously spotted with red or violet.

Helleborus foetidus

Helleborus foetidus is a semi-woody and very particular species, unfortunately with a rather short life. The rhizome is slowly expanding. The leaves are evergreen, 30 cm wide, tightly divided and slightly toothed. The leaflets are 12, just toothed. From February to May, at the apex of the stems, up to 40 flowers appear, about 2 cm in diameter, green in color with a red border. It grows better in partial shade. It also tolerates dry soils well.

Helleborus sternii

Helleborus sternii is a highly variable hybrid belonging to the semi-woody group. It has a rigid, slowly expanding rhizome that produces erect green, pink or pink-tinged stems. The leaves are evergreen and 8-23 cm long, each divided into 3 spiny leaflets. The leaves can be green with silver veins up to a totally silvery color sometimes also with pink shades. The flowers appear between January and April, on top of the stems, in groups of even 30. The shape is cup-shaped and measure about 2.5 cm in diameter. The color is green with pink shades. It tolerates full sun and dry soils well. It derives from H. angustifolius and from H. lividus.

Helleborus - Helleborus x hybridus

Helleborus x hybridus is a very diverse group. In Italy they are generally confused with helleborus horientalis. They usually form dense clumps, rather woody and characterized by a slow expansion. The foliage is evergreen, lively, dark and leathery with a diameter of about 50 cm. The stems usually carry 4 or 5 flowers, around spring. The colors are very varied: from white, to pink, to red, to yellow. The forms are also very different: from simple bell-shaped, to double to anemone flowers. All colors may also have small spots inside.
  • Hellebore

    It is also called Christmas Rose, because the hellebore blossoms between December and February, as soon as they appear daily

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  • White hellebore

    White hellebore is also commonly referred to as Christmas rose. Its flowers bloom in the period between the ini

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  • Helleborus orientalis

    Helleborus orientalis is a deciduous or evergreen perennial plant native to Europe and southern Asia. He took

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Family and gender

Ranunculaceae, gen. helleborus
Type of plant Herbaceous or semi-woody, perennial
Exposure Generally half shade, but also full sun for some species
Rustic Very rustic
Ground Rich, well-drained, fresh
colors White, green, pink, red, yellow, dotted, black
Irrigation Regular, especially in summer
Flowering From January to April
Propagation Seed, division
Composting Summer, end of winter