By Tonneli Grüetter
Hellebores are winter-blooming annuals that feature resilient deep-green foliage. Because of their winter bloom times, hellebores have earned the nickname “winter roses.” Despite this beloved moniker, hellebores (genus Helleborus) have no relation to roses (genus Rosa/family Rosaceae) and, instead, trace their lineage to the Ranunculaceae (crowfoot/buttercup) family, which also comprises Delphinium and Consolida (larkspur); Aconitum (monkshood); Anemone (windflower); Aquilegia (columbine); Clematis; Nigella (fennel); and, of course, Ranunculus—among many others.
Within the genus Helleborus, there are currently 22 recognized species; as cut flowers and potted plants, the most common species are Helleborus niger (Christmas rose) and Helleborus orientalis (Lenten rose). Among the varieties, you can find flowers in purplish black, purple, pink, red, green, yellow and white, with all of these being capable of aging into an array of hues. For designers craving extra drama, hellebores are also available in doubled-flowered varieties, and some varieties feature distinctive speckled petals.
In the gardening world, hellebores are collectively called Helleborus × hybridus—interspecific hybrids that are derived mainly from the H. orientalis species although there are also H. niger hybrids, as well.
Commercially, as cut flowers, some varieties of hellebores are available year-round, but the widest selection of hybrid varieties can be found at wholesale suppliers from September through March, from both domestic and international growers, particularly in the Netherlands. Due to the environmental conditions that hellebores require, there are few large growers of these flowers in the U.S. They can be sourced from “local” growers in cool climates as well as from wholesalers such as Mayesh Wholesale Florist, which currently lists 30 varieties of hellebores in its virtual “Flower Library,” falling mostly into green, white, pink and purple color categories.
Designing with hellebores is a rewarding challenge worth taking. Although most commonly seen in woodland and cottage-style flower arrangements, these flowers, with their wide array of colors, are an excellent fit for other styles of floral design, too. Double-flowered and multi-layer varieties are a stellar selection for spring and winter weddings. The ‘Double Ellen White’ variety, which is available from Mayesh, from around August through February, is a shining example of hellebore hybrids that are suitable for bridal work. Featuring three wavy layers of cool white petals that morph into a lime green at the center, wedding clients wanting classic color palettes will be delighted by these blooms. Alternatively, for tropical-nouveau-style arrangements, darker hues, such as the purplish black WINTER JEWELS™‘Onyx Odyssey’ hybrid, are unexpectedly savvy choices for pairing with waxy tropical flowers such as Anthurium. No matter the job, we implore you to consider our in-season friends—the humble hellebores—this winter, for inclusion in your seasonal floral designs.
SIX TIPS FOR MAXIMIZING THE VASE LIFE OF CUT HELLEBORES
1. Selecting blooms that were harvested at the proper stage of development is key. When shopping at a wholesaler, inspect hellebores closely to ensure a seedpod has begun to form in the centers. Flowers harvested before this optimal stage of development will, instead, have a fringed appearance, with stamens, and will last only a fraction of the time in arrangements.
2. Try putting a pin in it. When conditioning hellebores, insert a clean pin or sewing needle 1.5 inches into the center of each freshly cut stem end.
3. FloraLife® Quick Dip 100, an instant hydrating treatment that helps maximize the uptake of flower nutrient solution and keeps flower stems optimally hydrated, is an excellent product for use with hellebores and can be paired with other nonchemical methods, for increased vase life.
4. Submerge the entire flower (blooms, foliage and stems) into clean cold (50 F) water for two hours before use. During this procedure, pressure differences will cause water will be pulled up from the base of the stem and into the cells of the leaves and petals as the stomata (pores) on the leaves and petals open. This two-hour submersion in cold water coupled with the use of FloraLife® Quick Dip 100 has been proved to be the most effective procedure for increasing the uptake of water (flower nutrient solution).
5. An old-time trick for perking up wilted, water-stressed flowers involves placing the ends of freshly cut stems into 1 inch of parboiled water for 30 to 60 seconds to enhance water uptake. NOTE: If blooms are just beginning to wilt or are only mildly wilted, hot water (110 F to 140 F) should work; for woody or badly wilted stems, water that is 180 F to 200 F is better. Water at temperatures near boiling will “cook” fleshy stem ends, so cut off those sections of stems after the flowers have revived. Also, be careful not to “steam” the blooms or foliage; place stems in the container of hot water at an angle, away from rising steam.
6. If hellebores are harvested at an immature stage (with the stamens present), cut stems short before arranging them, or float stemless blooms in water containing flower nutrient solution.