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The Christmas rose

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Chicago gardeners, the Christmas rose is a lovely, unusual and remarkable plant. It’s interesting to know about it. It’s extensively cultivated in gardens, but the plant is highly toxic.

The Christmas rose is not a rose at all. It’s a member of the RANUNCULACEAE family. It belongs to the genus Hellebore, which contains about fifteen species. Its common names are Black Hellebore and Christmas rose. It’s native to Central, Eastern and Southern Europe and Western Asia. It grows wild in Central and South Europe and Turkey. Hellebores can form clumps with deciduous leaves, or they can be shrubs with biennial leaves and stems. Various species grow in Zones 4-9.

The Christmas rose is an evergreen perennial that grows from rhizomes. It has leathery, toothed basal leaves. The five-pedaled flowers are long-lasting and can be pink, white or purple. The single rose-like petals are pointed and large. It blooms from December to February and needs to be indoors in Chicago.

Ancient historian Pliny (23-79 AD) reported that Black Hellebore was used in minute amounts to treat medical conditions as early as 1400 BC. It’s now considered too potent to be used medicinally.

Those who grow Hellebores use them in groups as a mixed or shrub border. Some gardeners naturalize the plant in a woodland garden. Smaller species of the Hellebore genus can be used in rock gardens.

Hellebores like fertile, compost-rich soils. The soil should be moist, neither dry nor wet. It prefers dappled or partial shade and shelter from strong, cold winds.

Grow the Christmas rose indoors in Chicago. If you want to grow other Hellebores in your Chicago garden, choose zone friendly plants. You can purchase the seeds or rhizomes online or from a seed catalog.

Live long and well—garden.

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