February is a month when we are really starting to get tired of the snow and cold temperatures and look forward to spring. There are a few plants that we can appreciate this early in the season. One plant that can begin blooming in the end of February and into March would be Helleborus or Lenten Rose.
Lenten Rose, Helleborus orientalis, is a perennial plant that has evergreen leaves. It grows up to 15-18 inches in height and spread and will colonize in good growing conditions. The leaves are deeply serrate into 7-9 segments, but are not compound leaves. Helleborus blooms at the end of February into March and the blooms last until June. The flowers are cupped, 4 inches wide and vary in color from white or cream, to rose, to purple. Lenten Rose was selected as the Perennial Plant Association "Plant of the Year" in 2005 due to its superior characteristics.
There are many different species and hybrids of Lenten Rose available to the homeowner. The most widely known species of Helleborus, would be the Christmas Rose, Helleborus niger. Other types of Lenten Rose are typically going to be a hybrid species. There is also one called Stinking Hellebore, or Helleborus foetidus, which has light green flowers with a purple tip to the petals, it can be bad smelling up close.
Lenten Rose grows in part to full shade with moist, well-drained soils. It is a great plant to be used as an understory plant of trees. It is a nice plant to use for an evergreen appearance to your landscape and it gives you early spring flowers. The toxicity is mainly if large quantities are eaten and the skin irritation is minor that lasts a short while, according to NC State University Cooperative Extension. Helleborus is also very tolerant of frost, once it gets established, due to its evergreen nature. It is also very drought tolerant. The photo of the Lenten Rose flowers is a Flickr image courtesy of Klasse im Garten per CC license
Lenten Rose is a good choice for acreages because it is naturally deer and rabbit resistant, so they will not be eaten by the wildlife. They can tolerate extreme drought conditions and have few insect or disease problems. All parts of Helleborus is poisonous via ingestion and skin irritation from the sap. In the past, Europeans would use some species of Helleborus for medicinal purposes, but that is not advised any longer due to their poisonous nature, according to the University of Missouri Libraries.
Lenten Rose, or Helleborus, is a beautiful plant. It is available in many different colors, including a green-colored flower. It is a great plant to use in any landscape for early spring color to your gardens, mainly in the shade or understory locations around your trees and shrubs. So the next time you are looking for a shade-tolerant plant, look for Lenten Rose.