Well, I can’t match my friend Russ Graham over in Oregon who tells me he’s had a Christmas rose flowering at Halloween for the last three years – that’s amazing. But about ten days ago, I went out in the rain here in Pennsylvania and found the earliest Christmas rose we’ve had in flower here.
The plant flowering here (first picture) is Helleborus niger ‘Joshua’, bred in Germany by Josef Heuger who’s raised a number of good hellebores in recent years. I posted about it in December 2006.
‘Joshua’ was bred as an early bloomer and, although there are only a few flowers on the plant, it’s a treat to see its pristine white flowers when almost everything else is fading away. Over in NJ, where it’s slightly warmer, another variety from Josef Heuger, ‘Josef Lemper’ (second picture), is in bloom on plants set out only in June.
Both these varieties, along with (more surprisingly) H. x ericsmithii ‘Silvermoon’ and H. x nigercors ‘Green Corsican’ have come through the winter here in PA and also in the chillier Ithaca, NY. These too are from Josef Heuger.
Russ Graham’s plant (third picture) is a selection from an early flowering strain developed by Ellen Hornig at Seneca Hill Perennials who had her stock from a friend. However, the problem with these plants for Ellen is that they flower in the fall or early winter – so when the seed is developing the weather at her nursery in Seneca, NY is especially hostile. Only in the spring, she tells me, if plants bloom again, does she get seed. The Heuger varieties are propagated by tissue culture.
Russ has been on the trail of a genuine reliably Christmas flowering form of the Christmas rose for some time and this certainly seems to be the answer. Will it bllom so early in colder areas? I like the faint pink blush to its buds, too.
In the US, look out for ‘Joshua’ and ‘Josef Lemper’ in retail nurseries. In the UK, a few nurseries stock one or the other of these varieties – check the RHS PlantFinder for details. You can find out more on Josef Heuger’s hellebores here.