Why talk about Hellebores?
Because they are currently in bloom. Also, one of my friends recently mentioned her growing interest in them, which makes for a good excuse to do a little blog piece on it. Aaaand because they're one of my favorites. :)
Why are they one of my favorites?
Brightness in the dull, grey Winter. Long-lasting beauty. Delicate sturdiness.
What are some of their unique characteristics, or, how would I know if I saw one?
Well, first of all, they carry the nicknames of Christmas Rose and Lenten Rose because they bloom during those seasons. In Portland, however, it would be pretty surprising to see the majority of the hybrids grown in the area as early as Christmas. Lenten Rose is probably the most accurate nickname around here. I associate them with February and March. In appearance, they are low and bushy, with dark green notched leaves (many varieties have much fuller foliage than you see in the photos I have posted). The heads are more bell-like and face downward. There are some hybrids that have double layers or face outward, but a primary characteristic is the bowed head. I love that: sweet, humble and beautiful, but surprising in detail and beauty if you take the time to look.
In floral design and gardening, what are they useful for, or where do we want to see them?
Winter growing season!! Woo! I love seeing things that grow in Winter in Portland. Bulbs and flowering shrubs are cool, but hellebores show up even earlier than most of our other Wintery flowers, so they are a huge asset to any yard. They can grow under other trees and shrubs as well, so they're great for layering and covering areas that could easily be really boring in Winter. They look incredible in bouquets and floral arrangements, too, as a rare local Winter flower. The color options are super gorgeous, too... olive green, deep purple to black, deep cranberry, white and off white... gorgeous colors that compliment nearly any color scheme. As Soon as we get a move on with landscaping plans here at the new house hellebores are going to be a huge priority. I'll just have to make sure to plant enough for cutting, too! (Not for eating, though... they can be toxic.)
What smarty-pants scientific characteristics do we need to know about them, and why do we care?
First of all, they have five sepals, rather than petals. This is cool because it allows them to hold up for a very, very long time. You may have noticed the abnormally long "flowering" period - which is because the sepals remain in tact through the time that if it were a "flowering" and "fruiting" plant it would have changed and lost it's petals. They are also deep-rooted, allowing them to last through our coldish winters as perennials. Even when the beautiful sepals are gone, most varietals are evergreen and have lovely, dark green notched leaves year round. Another smarty pants note: hellebores and hybrids are part of the Ranunculaceae family. Other Ranunculaceae kids you may recognize are buttercups and clematis! Love that family.