Helleborus torquatus in Bosnia
Information on the Genus Helleborus
Hellebores are herbaceous perennials and are members of the family Ranunculaceae, the Buttercup family. Other notable members of the family are Delphinium, Clematis, Hepatica, Anemone, Ranunculus, Aquilegia and Thalictrum.
No hellebores are native to the U.S. There are about 15 species, depending upon who is counting, distributed from the British Isles, east through Europe to Asia Minor with one outlying species in China. They are notoriously difficult to identify and classify, being quite variable in nature.
They generally grow on deciduous woodland slopes or in shaded clearings among scrub or rocks. They are also found on apparently open, sunny slopes. These may later become overgrown and hence shaded in summer. Hellebores are frequently found in limestone areas, but they can grow happily in both acid and alkaline soils.
Caulescent and Acaulescent
There are two main categories of hellebores: stemmed (caulescent) and stemless (acaulescent). The stemmed species produce clumps of numerous rather tall stems. Each stem carries several evergreen leaves. On the top of these stems, in early to mid-winter, racemes of flowers appear. After the flowers are spent, this stem will never blossom again. You will notice the following year's stems emerging from the ground at about the time of flowering. You can remove the entire stem to the ground level, best done before a lot of energy goes into seed production, in early to mid May.
The stemless species all have individual leaves and flower stems arising directly from the ground. The flowers of the stemless species and hybrids will blossom whether the foliage has been removed, or not. Therefore, to allow for easier enjoyment of the flowers, and to rejuvenate the foliage on a yearly basis, we like to cut off all foliage of the stemless species and hybrids by about the first of December. (See Culture for photos.)