Hellebore Plant or the Christmas Rose

Hellebore Plant or the Christmas Rose

Recently, while hurrying in from shopping just before my celebration of Christmas, I was amazed to find a plant in bloom despite the cold winter temperatures. In fact with night time getting to -3 Celsius and highs during the day of +2, most of the plants in my garden have long died or frozen. Certainly the white blooms that bobbed in the cold winter winds caught my eye and then after a few pictures, led me to check on this plant which was new to my garden and whose name I remembered to be  Hellebore plant or the Christmas Rose.

 

Day before Christmas garden surprise

Day before Christmas garden surprise

 

Hellebore Plant general Information

This Genus of plants, from the Ranunculaceae (or buttercup) Family, are early-flowering, generally poisonous perennial plant that has large divided leaves. According to folklore hellebore was used in 585 BC. , to poison the Greek city of Kirrha’s water supply, leaving the troops weak with diarrhea and unable to defend  the city  and it is even suspected in the death of Alexander the Great.

Native to much of Europe and parts of Asia, these plants are found naturally growing in areas of England, Spain, and Portugal. They also grow wild along the northern coast of Turkey with the greatest concentration in the Balkans. In North America, based on plant temperature zone, these plants are grown successfully hardy from as low as Zone 4 to the warmer zone 8.

The Hellebores, originally 16-20 species, were valued for their winter and early spring flowers and still are today.  Classic species were known for their drooping white, pink, dark purple, sometimes green flowers on plants which generally grew 12-15 inches tall. These flowers are made up of 5 petals that are not typical, but are unique modified sepals that support the real flower which is in the centre of the “petals”. The hellebore’s real flower is a ring of small cup like petals called nectarines.

sepals and nec

sepals and nectaries

 

Nectaries are special cup or tubular like petals that contain glands that secrete nectar to entice insects, especially bees. This sugary substance not only provides an important food source for the bees in cooler weather, but attracts them for the purpose of pollinating the plants themselves. Both the nectaries and the sepals last a long time and then fall of similarly to petals falling off a rose.

Species/Hybrid colours

Highly valued for their colder weather flowers, Hellebores are now grown and planted with increasing popularity. As a result originally with 20 species, now breeders have begun hybridization of the original 20 species to mass produce an increasingly wide variety of plants with different colour blooms and petal combinations, including double flowered varieties. Now colours range from dark purple through to different shades of green, with multi -toned and even speckled blooms. Of course there are still many amazing single bloom specimens too!

 

solitary bloom

solitary bloom

bloom in snow

bloom in snow

 

 

 

 

 

 

H. Argutifolius or Corsican Hellebore is widely grown for its pale green star shaped flowers and leathery foliage. In my garden, I have the very popular Hellebore Plant or the Christmas Rose, official known as H. Niger. This plant white has pure white flowers in winter, specifically near Christmas  In fact, the blooms on mine opened the day before Christmas and now are covered in snow, barely alive on this January 1, 2013.

 

Boxing Day after storm

Boxing Day after storm

 

H. Orientalis, which is commonly known as Lenten Rose based on the plant’s seasonal flowering time near Easter, has flowers that range from white to creamy yellow. Originally found in the Ukraine, this species is not commonly found in gardens, but is used to create new subspecies due to its hardiness and the ease of which it adapts to new colour formations. Currently the Orientals and hybrids are increasing in popularity and they are seen in gardens everywhere.

 

 

Hellebore Orient

Hellebore Orient

 

 

Growing Hellebores

Hellebores are readily found at your local garden centres or perhaps you are lucky enough to have a friend who will split you off a starter plant in late spring or early fall. The plant may be added to your garden in the summer as well, but as they prefer shade and consistent levels of moisture they will need much closer attention if that is your planting time.

 

Requirements

Moisture

Hellebore plants can grow in any type of soil, but thrive best in soil that is well draining as they do not like to have soggy roots. Once established however Hellebore plants are quite drought tolerant. In addition, they like soil is rich in nutrients, especially organic matter.

Soil

Before planting anything, knowing your soil type is important.  If you want a complete analysis of your soil, there are test kits for general info and site where it can actually be sent away for a complete breakdown in to elements such as Sodium (Na+) etc. For most of us, knowing if the soil is sandy or clay in composition as well as the basic pH, that is good enough.

If you have heavy clay soil, adding some grit, such as sand and mixing them together well with organic matter will provide better drainage as well as basic nutrients. For sandy soil, adding some heavier clay based soil or clay pellets will help prevent the water from running through too quickly.

pH

In either case, it is reported in quite a few articles, that Hellebore plants prefer alkaline soil. This means earth with a pH of over 7.0. However, unless you know the pH of your soil, adding too many additives can cause more problems than it solves. One article I found stated they preferred 7.0 which is in fact a neutral pH and says Hellebores grow fine near evergreens. Evergreen trees and their fallen needles make the soil pH lower than 7.0, but should not be a problem.

Again, testing for pH can be done with a kit purchased at many garden centres. If you need to bring it up, dolomite Lime is suggested and to lower the pH, sulphur is recommended. Certainly checking with the garden centre  were you buy these  products  is best before adding, as the amount needed depends on the test results and the area of soil you plan to adjust.

Fertilizing

Before planting, adding organic compost, such as manure, leaf mold, mushroom compost or lovely rich homemade compost and mixing it in to the soil well will always give any plants a good start. Once they are beginning to show signs of new growth, adding bone meal or a slow release fertilizer will help once the plants are established and before the height of summer’s heat arrives.

 

compost

compost

Light Requirements

Again, there are differences in opinion here. Generally however, Hellebore plants prefer partial shade and not the midday sun for hours. Suggested locations for planting are near deciduous trees for several reasons. First these trees provide a break for hot sun during the summer and secondly once their leaves fall off, the plants will be able to take advantage of the reduced strength of the sun in the fall and winter months.

Planting near evergreen hedging or rows of conifers, provides a break against the dry and biting cold of winter winds. Provided the hellebore is planed with half a day of reasonable light the plant should be fine.

Disease

Hellebore plants are susceptible a few disease including   blight mold and crown rot fungal as well as Black Spot and Black Death.  Both Black Spot and Black Death cause blacking on the leaves, but the Death is far more fatal. If you see darkening of the leaves or any disease at all, examine the plant closely, make notes and then head straight to a horticultural expert!

 

Hellebore Black Death is a serious disease of hellebores, probably caused by a newly discovered virus, where plants become stunted, deformed and marked by black streaks and ring patterns. This viral disease causes stunting and distortion. In addition, it causes black streaking and netting patterns on the leaves that can also develop on the stems and flowers. All infected plants should be dug up promptly and destroyed as there is no known treatment that controls Black Death.

 

Black Death

Black Death

 

Black spot is generally known as leaf spot and in this plant is caused by the fungus Microsphaeropsis hellebore.  The fungus infects leaves and stems giving rise to roughly round dead, brown spots. Remove all affected leaves promptly and destroy them so they will not be a source of re-infection in the next gardening season. In addition there are also fungicides available at garden centre, which can be effective on Hellebore plants.

 Pests

Hellebore plants are good eating for aphids, mice, slugs and snails. These all prefer the seedlings found from this self-seeding plant as well as the buds on mature plants. Sprays are available for aphids, and traditional course grit may prove to be effective against snails and slugs.

Personal Experience

 

Despite everything, most plant experts agree that hellebores are generally trouble-free, but it pays to be aware of possible problems. As with many other family of plants good breeding practises have resulted in many new varieties that are easy to care for and resistant to most pests and diseases. All this being said, I still love my Hellebore Plant or the Christmas Rose.

Armed with my new found knowledge and an ever increasing fascination of the inspiration gardens have over me, I intend to try several other species of Hellebore plants this coming spring and hope you will too!

 

 

Just a few Hellebore            flowers

Just a few Hellebore flowers

 

 

Poinsettia Plant

 

 At Christmas time here in North America, the Poinsettia plant is a common sight almost everywhere you look. Hardware, department and even corner stores, all carry a wide variety of this brightly coloured plant. Then there are plastic replicas, cards, wrapping paper, brooches, earrings and assorted jewellery . Never have I seen one plant so recognized by gardeners and non gardeners alike.

 

assorted colours

assorted colours

Then, as a gardener, I am embarrassed to say how little I know of this plant except how to care for it. Certainly I know it likes to be evenly moist and likes lots of light, to keep the plant firm and healthy. Then there is the darkening process required to get the lovely colourful flower, which I once successfully did, even if I started so late the pale red petals come out in February, making it a Valentine’s Poinsettia.

 

Right now, there are two different colour specimens of  the  Poinsettia plant, in my living room, and even an all green one that is celebrating its one year anniversary at my workplace. Recently when watering that plant, someone asked me where it came from and of course I replied form the cafeteria, where they tired of it in January.  Then I began to wonder where this plant originated and I realized I had another plant for my inspiration.

 

History of Poinsettia Plants

Poinsettia plants, proper name Euphorbia Pulcherrima, which translates to “most beautiful Euphorbia” and is part of the Spurge Family of plants. Largely composed of herbs, this family contains a wide variety of plants including some shrubs, trees and succulents, in tropical areas.  I was unable to determine who discovered this plant and when that happened but it is known the Aztecs used it in the 14th-16th Century.

 

The plant was throughout their habitat region in Central America and tropical regions of Mexico. Record show the plant was part of their daily lives in addition to being beautiful. The sap from the leaves and stems was used to reduce fever and the red coloured leaves found around the flowers, were used as a dye.

 

Traditional Red Poinsettia

Traditional Red Poinsettia

As the 16th century began to draw to a close, legend and fact become mixed. Certainly it is know that the Poinsettia plant, know there as “Noche Buena”, meaning Christmas Eve, was used in Mexico as part of Christmas tradition . From the 16th century the plant was used in Mexico as part of the Christian Christmas Celebrations and that continued in to the 17th century, with the Spanish Conquest of the area. Then the Franciscan Friars also continued to use it, in celebrations and Spanish botanists began to study it.

 

Further research reveals that between 1825- 1828,  the colourful poinsettia  plant was introduced in to the United States from its native growing areas along the Pacifica Coast of Mexico and Central America, by Joel Roberts Poinsett, the United States Minister to Mexico at the time. He sent these plants to President Andrew Jackson for a Christmas display at the White House, where they were named there in his honour. Since then, the plant’s role in Christmas tradition spread throughout the United States and Canada.  In Mexico and Guatemala the plant is still referred to as “Noche Buena”, meaning Christmas Eve.

 

History records that this brightly coloured plant was shipped to Egypt around 1860 and that it is still cultivated there to this day. In this area of the world the plant is called “Bent El Consul”, “the consul’s daughter”, referring to the U.S. ambassador Joel Poinsett.  Perhaps the strangest part of the history of this plant is the legend that follows it.

 

Poinsettia Legend

Legends told over the years do vary, as word of mouth is not the most reliable of ways to record history, but there are some constants that come through each telling of this plant’s legend. During the 16th century the tale records that two small, children, from a very poor family watched all manner of Christmas celebrations in the village. One of these ceremonies was the setting up of a manger scene in front of the church.

 

After the manger was set up people came with gifts to place before the crèche. With nothing to give, these two children decided to pick plants for along the roadside to decorate the crib for Baby Jesus.  The children placed these weeds at the manger and before long everyone teased them about their gift, but on Christmas morning the weeds had bloomed in to beautiful red star shaped flowers of the Poinsettia Plant.

 

The moral of this story was that giving from the heart is the most important and true way to give. Of course one of the Aztec name for this plant was flor que se marchita translated to the flower that wilts) and gardens know that the  noche buena  or Poinsettia wilts within a few minutes after it is cut, making it unsuitable for bouquets…so if the legend was true, it really was a miracle!

 Anatomy of Poinsettia

This family of flowering plants is composed of approximately 300 genera and 7,500 species of flowering plants.  One  thing this family shares is an unusual flower cluster composed called  cyathium , which is a cuplike group of modified leaves enclosing a female flower and several male flowers.

In fact, what we think of as the Poinsettia flower is really the modified leaves called bracts. These bracts serve several purposes. First, they protect the poinsettia’s true flowers, which are the tiny (4-5 mm) greenish-yellow buds in the centre of the bracts.   Also the bright red colour attracts pollinating insects to the little flowers.

 

flowers

tiny yellow flowers

 

 

In addition to the attraction we have to the bright red colours of this plant, most people are also aware of the misconception that the sap of this plant is poison. While the plant does have a thick milky sap, or latex, that is known to be a skin irritant, studies have shown that their toxicity is greatly exaggerated!

 

Eating or ingesting any part of  a Poinsettia Plant will cause digestive problems of cramps, nausea with diarrhea, especially in serious cases. One article I read said in dogs the sap irritates mouth and stomach. Even poison control centre in the United States determined a small child would have to eat over 500 leaves before it would become toxic.

 

A general precaution, with Poinsettia’s and all plants, is to keep them out of easy reach by pets and children alike.

 

Poinsettia care

Poinsettias require little care to thrive through the Holiday season. Water them when the soil feels dry to the touch, but do not over water or the leaves, both green and red, will turn yellow and fall off.

The plant likes lots of direct sunlight, as they did come from  a tropical area, it makes sense.  If the Poinsettia is part of a scene or display that is not close to a window, then moving it occasionally to a bright window for even a few hours, will help the bracs keep their bright red colour.

Regular house temperatures  are tine for this plant but be aware it is sensitive to cold drafts and being too close to cold windows.

 

After season Care

Many people discard this plant after the Christmas season, however many gardeners keep this plant and hope they can force it to recolour in the fall.

Basically keep watering the plant through the spring and then place in a sunny window. If the plant begins to get scraggy, leave a branch intact for food production and trim the other back.

Once the last frost is past, the poinsettia can be planted in the garden. New growth in both cases will be deep green and the size of the plant may get out of control so cutting back will be required. Regular fertilizing with a good general purpose brand is also a good idea.

One the summer is past and the weather begins to cool, the challenge of forcing the Poinsettia plant bloom and bracs, becomes the challenge. Starting Oct 1, the plant needs total darkness from 5 p.m to 8 a.m ( 12-14 hours in total) and still good light during the day.  This is required for about 10 weeks until the end of November when you should notice buds forming.

Suggestions:

 A black plastic bag works well. Put the plant in the bottom and merely pull the bag up and twist tie it closed over the plant. In the morning drop the bag down around the bottom of the plant.

If you have a deep, dark cupboard that the plant can be moved in to that will also work  but remember any stray light during this resting period can impact forcing the bloom.

lovley plants

Anatomy of a Flower

Recently after writing numerous articles on flowers, I came to realize how little I remembered of their anatomy. While the words stamen and anther floated off in the foggy parts of my brain, none of the public school science class came along for the ride, so as usual I decided it was research time again, knowing, there would be so much data my brain would swell!

Certainly I was not disappointed at what I found out, but never in my wildest dream did the anatomy of a plant, or pollination seem so exciting. Or perhaps I should call the article, the sex life of a single plant! Okay, laugh all you like, but I did come to learn about the male and female parts, the sperm cells and the ovule.

Unlike in humans, most of the time these parts are in the same plant, but occasionally there are plants that hold one sexual part, waiting for the opposite part of the same species. In neither case does conversation or interest play a role. Appearance on the other hand is almost everything, as the attraction of insects to a lovely looking bloom is the first stem in a complex cycle.

 

While each plant has many complex  cycles, such as root, nutrition and cellular growth just to name a few, I am just exploring the role of the flower in  ensuring the plant propagates. Not all plants flower or spread by seed, but those that do are the most common in our garden and are enjoyed by both people and insect populations. Surely the terminology of the anatomy of a flower and steps of plant sex are complicated, and so several diagrams will follow, as well as some photographs of lovely blooms.

 

Anatomy of a flower

 

Anatomy of a flower

                     A.  Peduncle                         E. Petals                  

                                         B.   Ovary                               F. Anther

                                         C.   Style                                G. Stamens

                                         D.   Stigma                            H. Sepals

Each flower bud is attached and supported by a peduncle or in common terms, a stalk or stem( see A above). The stem gives support to the developing flower from the elements and insects so it is not destroyed before the seeds are formed. From this stem grows the Sepal ( H), which is a leaf like part that protects the maturing bud and supports the base of the flower once it is open.

Each boom is composed of petals which make it visually attractive and often pleasantly scented. While the number in each bloom varies, as do the styles and shapes, their purpose is the same . Despite any physical differences on the outside, their role is to attract insects in to the flower. Once there, the insects collect pollen on a body part, often the legs and transfer it when they go in to the bloom of another plant.

 

Stamen

The Stamen is the male flower part and is composed of two parts:(F)  Anther                   and (G) Filament.

There they go…the little honey bees, looking for nectar and moving pollen by landing on the Anther. Now the Anther, or male pollen producing reproductive organ of the flower, blows in the breeze high atop the Filament.

The Filament is a thin stem that provides support for the Anther making it easier to be seen and for visits by local insects. The Anther has two lobes, both of which have spore making sacks called Microsporangia. The micro spores inside split by mitosis, so both the nucleus and cytoplasm are identical …an exact duplicate of the parent plant in each grain of pollen. Once the pollen is mature the Anther then opens for transfer by wind, water or the general bug population.

 

Anther, Filament and Stigma of a Hosta

 

Technically the male part of the reproduction equation here, in brief comes down to the Stamen is a tiny Filament with a bumpy two segmented Anther on top. The usually pale yellow pollen maturing there is then released to carry the plants genetic material, with each grain of pollen containing cells that eventually for sperm cells. Yes, that is what they are called and they do travel in search of the Ovary.

Pistil

The Pistil is composed of single or multiple units that are separate or fused. Each unit is called a Carpel.

Each Carpel has four parts:    the Stigma ( D)

    Style    (C)

   Ovary  (B)

                 Ovule (inside B)

 

Stigma

The top of this section or the Stigma can be long and slender to feathery in appearance. In addition to receiving the pollen transferred by insects, the Stigma also rejects the pollen of other species preventing mutation. Once on a compatible Stigma, the sugary fluid formed there causes the pollen to germinate.

 

Style

The Style is a tube-like portion between the Stigma and the Ovary that can be short or lengthy. Germinated pollen on the Stigma grows a pollen tube that carries the sperm cells by drilling its way through the nutrient rich Style carrying the sperm cells towards the Ovary. . In some cases the style is responsible for self-incompatibility, causing pollen tubes to fail.

Ovary

The Ovary is the female reproductive organ of the flower and the part of the Pistil that hold s the Ovules. Once the pollen tube reaches here, the now grown sperm cells are delivered to the ovule.

 

Stigma, Style and Ovary

 

Ovule

In seed propagating plants, the ovule contains the female reproductive parts and consists for three parts. There is an outer layer, a nucleus and inside the nucleus is the actual egg cell which is the site of the fertilization. After one sperm achieves this, the ovule becomes a seed cell that forms other seed. The second sperm cell changes and grows to become the food supply for the embryo.

 

In addition, the plants have stores of starch, protein and oils as food for the developing embryo and developing seedling, similar to the yolk of animal eggs.  There are also other terms and complex steps that are referred to in the same terms at human sexual reproduction, such a placenta, and umbilical cord.

 

 

Life Cycle of a Floral plant

 

 Conclusion

I have spent quite some time sorting through the facts before writing this article and the only real conclusion I have is that describing the parts of a flower that are involved in its sexual reproduction, as complicated as trying to explain the development of a human baby.

Of course the other obvious part of this conclusion is that life is a miracle , no matter how many terms and books describe the science behind it.

Now I admire the lovely blooms of my garden and feel even more connected and inspired to share their enthusiasm…time to smell the roses!

 

Nice Anthers!