Helleborus odorus
Common Name: hellebore
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Ranunculaceae
Native Range: Balkans, southern Hungary, southern Romania
Zone: 6 to 8
Height: 1.00 to 2.00 feet
Spread: 1.00 to 2.00 feet
Bloom Time: February to March
Bloom Description: Dark green to apple-green to yellow-green
Sun: Part shade to full shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Flower: Showy, Fragrant
Leaf: Evergreen
Other: Winter Interest
Tolerate: Deer

Culture

Easily grown in moist, organically rich, humusy, neutral to alkaline, well-drained soils in part shade to full shade. Prefers light to moderate shade, but tolerates sunny locations as long as soils are kept consistently moist. Likes limey soils. Plants grown near the northern edge of the growing range (winter hardy to USDA Zone 6) should be located in areas protected from cold winter winds. Prolonged cold spells in winter will damage the evergreen foliage (browns up). Cut back damaged leaves in late winter (before flowering) and flowering stems after bloom in order to promote new foliage growth. Plants may self-seed in optimum growing conditions.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Helleborus odorus, commonly called fragrant hellebore, is a clump-forming often evergreen perennial that is native to open woodlands, woodland margins and grassy areas of southeastern Europe from Romania to northern Italy and northern Greece including the Island of Corfu. It is very similar in appearance to H. cyclophyllus except for having mostly evergreen leaves in some locations (C. cyclophyllus is deciduous), slightly larger flowers (usually in excess of 2” across), and usually undivided leaflets.

Fragrant hellebore is grown not only for its attractive late winter/early spring flowers but also for its coarse but bold foliage which often remains evergreen. It typically grows to 14-22” tall. Leaves (to 13-16”) have 5-11 ovate-lanceolate leaflets, each leaflet being 3-5 lobed to unlobed. Leaf margins are coarsely serrated. Leaf petioles and leaf undersides are covered with silvery down. Saucer-shaped, outward-facing, 3 to 5 lobed dark green to apple green (sometimes yellow-green), fragrant flowers (each to 2 1/2” across) bloom February to March (earlier in some climates) on stems rising above the foliage to 22” tall. Two to three flowers typically bloom per stem.

Genus name comes from the Greek words bora meaning food and helein meaning injures/destroys in reference to the plant’s toxic leaves, stems and roots which are poisonous to humans if ingested.

Specific epithet comes from the Latin word meaning fragrant in reference to flower fragrance.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. Crown rot and leaf spot are occasional problems. Watch for aphids and slugs.

Garden Uses

Flowers that bloom in February in St. Louis are true harbingers of spring. Locate plants near a kitchen window, patio or walkway so that the early bloom may be enjoyed to the fullest. Group in part shady locations under trees, large shrubs or in woodland gardens. May also be incorporated into a naturalized area where the clumps will slowly spread through self-seeding. Mass for an attractive year round ground cover.