Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Plant Profile: Helleborus Foetidus


zone 5
18" - 24" tall and wide
blooms: early spring to mid-May

Helleborus foetidus is one of the first perennials of the season to bloom. Pale green maroon-edged flowers and bracts on tall stalks contrast the lower dark foliage:

Helleborus foetidus is also called the "stinking" or "bear-foot" hellebore, but don't be dissuaded by the unromantic name! (It's not noticeably odorous unless you really put your nose in the plant.) It more than makes up for its name with its superb evergreen foliage, its reliable early blooms, and its ability to self propagate. (Ants apparently are mainly responsible for carrying these seeds through your garden, so when you see them marching around, remember they're working for you!) Two or three plants can produce a colony in matter of years. It also is a favorite among honey bees, which makes sense, being the first available pollen after a long cold winter!

Helebores.org also says, "Few hellebores are as magnificent during the coldest days of winter prior to blooming. The foliage can be breathtaking when little else in the garden is visible...Leaflets are narrow and neatly serrated. At or near ground level leaves are typically absent. Individual stems live but a short time; often they grow for one year and bloom the following year before fading. If cut back, they are soon replaced with new growth. Like other caulescent hellebores, it is fairly quick (by hellebore standards) from seed to bloom, often blooming in its second year."

We also have a new variety coming this year, Helleborus foetidus 'Gold Bullion'. Our grower says this new variety has "outstanding, chartreuse foliage with yellowish gold new growth and red tinged stems. Keeps its good looks through the winter months with attractive, greenish yellow flowers blooming late winter/spring from 20" tall stems. Slow spreading, clumping habit. Brightens up a shady spot! Can tolerate clay soils."

Sounds like a winner, right?