My husband and I attended a wonderful spring gardening seminar in April of 2022. This was the first such gathering since the pandemic. There have been conversations with other gardeners about how welcoming the spring flowers are. We praised daffodils, lilies, tulips, and crocuses. A woman mentioned the beautiful fasting flower. I didn’t know about a flower that blooms in early spring called the Lenten flower. I had to learn more about her.
Lenten Rose is not a rose at all, but the five sepals flowers are similar to rose flowers. It’s really Helleborus Orientalis, a perennial flowering plant and a type of hellebore in the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae, native to Greece and Turkey. Helleborus is taken from the Greek helleein which means “wound”, and bora “food”, and refers to the bitter-tasting leaves and roots that are poisonous when ingested.
It is an attractive looking plant, with glossy dark evergreen leaves divided into seven to nine parts, sharply serrated on the edges. The leaves are attractive all year round. The flowers are three to four inches wide and consist of five showy cups.
The blooms can vary in color from purple to pink to cream, and the sepals may be spotted inside, which I find very interesting. The plant is usually 15 to 18 inches tall and 15 inches wide, but some can be up to 24 inches tall and up to 30 inches wide. Older varieties have nodding flowers that point downward. Reproduction and evolution has resulted in larger, upward-facing blooms and flowers, as well as new colors and species.
Lenten Rose can be grown in zones 4 through 9.
Lenten Rose is happiest in partial to full shade and in soil rich in humus. The soil should be moist and well drained. Lenten Rose does not tolerate high temperatures. On the other hand, in winter, evergreen leaves can burn unless covered with snow. If this happens, cut off the old leaves and they will fill in with new ones. It is a very tolerant plant.
The dark green foliage and early flowering habits will help you decide where to plant. You’ll likely want to view it easily as winter wears off and early spring flowering begins. Choose the location so you can enjoy this beautiful plant. I read that the thicker leaves of hellebores are somewhat deer and rabbit resistant. I’ll have to try this to know for sure.
For reproduction, seed propagation can be used, but it is a very slow process. Division is most successful in the spring. This is achieved by carefully separating the crown to create sections with new leaf buds and several roots. Also, new plants can be obtained from seedlings that are produced in fertile soil near the plants.
I now have a Lenten Rose in the flower beds in our house. She lives on the east side of our house under a tree among many other perennials. It works really well and I really hope squirrels don’t like it. I look forward to the early spring blooms.
Much of the information in this article was taken from Stephen M Steele’s “Guide to Herbal Ornamental Plants.” Stipes Publishing LLC, Copyright 1980, 1982, 1988, 1994; Beaulieu, David. How to grow and care for Lenten Rose. (Updated 6/1/22) Spruce, www.thespruce.com; And the experience of this author.
Joy Ceraldi is a master gardener with Sandusky and Ottawa County Extension offices.
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