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Christmas roses - at Christmas or even before

Josephlemper500 A hellebore arrived in the mail yesterday. It’s a sample of a new Christmas rose, Helleborus niger ‘HGC Joseph Lemper’, bred in Germany by Joseph Heuger and distributed in the US as part of their Gold Collection by the good people at Yoder. As well as being the world’s largest chrysanthemum breeders they’re continuing to expand into other areas. It’s a lovely little thing, just coming into flower.

Of course, it’s been growing in a greenhouse. But a larger plant I brought back from Yoder in the summer opened its first flower out in the garden ten days ago, on a plant that’s been outside since spring. Will it flower outside every Christmas, here in north east Pennsylvania? That remains to be seen…

Russell Graham, a hellebore enthusiast Oregon, where of course it’s much warmer than here in Pennsylvania, has been on the trail of Christmas roses that really do flower at Christmas for six years and has been gathering early flowering plants from nurseries and from other enthusiasts. He had some in flower at Thanksgiving this year but plants have to prove themselves in a variety of different seasons.

Joshua500Another new Christmas rose from Yoder is ‘Joshua’ which the breeder says is the earliest, flowering in Germany in November. It also opened a flower on 5 December in my garden and ‘Edelweiss’, which I got from Edelweiss Perennials in Oregon in the spring, has been in bud for weeks and is also finally about to open its first flower.

But there’s another thing I noticed about ‘Joseph Lemper’ - the flowers face upward (as you'll see clearly if you click on the image above). Now this may be because of its cozy spell in the greenhouse or it may be a feature of this variety but it’s both a good thing and a bad thing. The flowers make more of an impact as you look down on them, but they also collect every drop of moisture and encourage the petals to rot. It will be interesting to see if the upward facing flowers are a consistent feature, year after year, as it’s not mentioned in the breeder’s description. ‘Joseph Lemper’ is small and neat in both foliage and flower, it looks a lot like ‘White Magic’ that I used to grow in England. I’ll be watching it with interest. And if you have a Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, that reliably flowers at Christmas click Comment below and tell us about it. I, and Russ, will be very interested.

You can find out more about these new Christmas roses, which will be available, in flower, in garden centers and nurseries in the US in the fall of 2007, at the breeder’s website. You can also download a pdf of information on the Yoder Gold Collection, and another on their Immanence Collection, also from of Lenten Roses, H. x hybridus, also bred by Joseph Heuger, from here. And there’s more on H. niger on my own hellebore pages.

In the meantime we can have a good laugh at the ludicrous “legend” quoted in the PR material. I give it here, in full: “One of the many legends surrounding Christmas rose tells the story of a young shepherdess who wants to visit the Christ child. She is very sad because she is poor and has no gift to bring him. An angel sees her crying and touches the snow-covered ground at her feet. The first Christmas rose springs up, and the shepherdess now has a very special gift to bring to the baby Jesus.”

Oh, please… What nonsense! There are all sorts of versions of this story but let’s just be clear. The Christmas rose grows nowhere near Bethlehem and never has. I’d say the nearest wild plants are about 1,400 miles away, not far from the Mediterranean in Croatia. Great piece of PR, though…


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I love hellebores! Deer resistant and quirky looking! I will look for this new one although it probably will take a few years to find it at the garden centers. Helleborus foetidus is one of my favorites and is starting to push flowers now in New England.

Graham Rice

There are two lovely hellebore pictures, including one of H. foetidus, on the mostlymacro blog here - http://mostlymacro.blogspot.com/2006/12/sunday-17th-dec.html

kim (blackswamp_girl)

Thanks for the information, Graham! Interesting how the flowers on that HGC selection in the first photo look like they should be on a Japanese anemone instead of a hellebore. I don't know what I think of the hellebores with upturned flowers--I frankly kind of like having to work for them!

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