Enchantment in a Christmas Rose

On the first Christmas, when the shepherds went to pay their respects to the Child at Bethlehem, they were followed by a little girl. When she found that they had brought offerings of doves, fruits and honey, and had no gifts to offer herself, she left dishearteningly, and wandered away weeping. Suddenly a light from above shone brilliantly on her, and the angel Gabriel asked her why she wept.

When he was told that she was too poor to bear gifts. the angel swept the earth with his wings, and before the little girl there soon appeared the beautiful white flowers of the Christmas rose in abundance. With great joy she gathered big bunches, and carried them to where the Child lay. There the kings and their attendants were presenting their rich gifts, but when the Child saw the little girl with her bouquet, he smiled, and stretched out his tiny hand to reach the pearly white flowers.

christmas rose

Thus, according to this delightful legend, the Christmas rose came to be – an enchanting flower cherished for the many tales and myths that tell of its creation, for its symbols that stand for beauty, purity and everlasting strength. Its attractive evergreen leaves and waxy flowers have the boldness to reverse the normal blooming cycle, and brighten our gardens and hearts in the icy time of year.

Flower of Winter

Perhaps no other flower belongs more truly – and traditionally – to December and January. Some of the early-flowering httlbs, like eranth is and snowdrop, will often err and startle us with their floral jewels weeks ahead of the dictates of the calendar.

Some of the late Winter-flowering shrubs, like the witch-hazels, will transgress schedule and burst into occasional bloom on luring, warm Winter days, but the Christmas rose was made specially for Winter – and for Christmas, too. It is, indeed, the season’s own.

Not a True Rose

One of the first facts we should learn about the Christmas rose is that it is not a true rose. Nor is it related to it in any way. The common name was given because its flowers, which often appear at the holiday season, resemble those of single, white roses. The botanical name indicates that it is a hellebore or a member of the ranunculus or buttercup family. Thus the buttercup, hepatica, delphinium, peony, clematis. columbine, anemone and monkshood are some of its more popular cousins.

Soil Requirements

This hellebore from southeastern Europe and Asia Minor will, once given the proper location and soil requirements, become a permanent resident of any shrub planting, plant border or rock garden. As it grows naturally in woodland areas, it requires a deep, well-drained soil that contains plenty of humus material. Peat moss, leaf mold and well-rotted manure need to be added in quantity when preparing the bed. A neutral pH reading is best, and if the soil is acid, it is advisable to add lime. Partial shade is also a requisite, and this can be provided in the form of light shade from high-branching trees or tall-growing shrubs. Such a place is ideal because coverage is offered from the hot Summer sun, and yet sunlight, needed for good flowering, reaches the clumps during the leafless months. In dry periods, it is important to water plants well, as the black roots dive deeply into the soil.

A Long-lived Perennial

In selecting a suitable place for your Christmas rose, choose one where the plants can remain permanently. They resent being moved about, though more especially they dislike to have their roots torn or broken. Slow in coming into bloom. once established they will he faithful with their creamy white contributions for many years. It is not unusual to hear reports from gardeners who have had plants in the same spot for 50-75 years.

In transplanting the Christmas rose, perform the operation in the early Spring or Fall. Opinions of experts seem to vary about this, but if plants are lifted with a large ball of soil they will fare well. New plants are best obtained by lifting the outer pieces of a clump with a pitchfork, thus leaving the center crown undisturbed.

Christmas Roses Indoors

An interesting way to handle the Christmas rose for use in the home is to lift budded plants carefully in the Fall from the garden, pot them in large containers and then force in a cool room or greenhouse for Christmas. As plants flower anywhere from Fall through March, and later, this method will assure flowers for the day itself. The English are very fond of this practice, and at Christmas. potted plants are a common sight in market places. In creamy white jardinieres or in green ones they can be a truly beautiful spectacle indoors where a too warm place should be avoided.

Effective in Arrangements

Of course, the flowers may be gathered from the garden or the coldframe, if they are grown there specially for cutting purposes, and used for flower arrangements. They combine well with holly or inkberry leaves and other traditional Christmas greens, but however arranged, they deserve the most important place – the dining-room table, mantel or coffee table ? where they can be seen and enjoyed from every vantage point. White, green or red candles used in the arrangement will add color and interest. The Christmas rose, we must not forget, is no ordinary flower, and should not be treated as such.

Species and Varieties

The most commonly grown species, and the most beautiful, is Helleborus niger already mentioned. Its deeply-cut, leathery leaves, remindful of those of pachysandra, measure about three inches across. The flowers, tinged with green and pink, consist of five petals, two to five inches in diameter. They appear at the ends of foot-long stems, which may be shorter or even longer.

There are also many worthwhile varieties of the species. H. n. altifolius is bigger, and has flowers that measure 3% inches across (in humid climates they grow larger), often several on a stem, while H. n. praecox has smaller blooms. Another species, very popular in Europe, is II. orientalis, known as the lenten rose because it blooms from late Winter through the lenten period. Not as handsome as its close relative, it has dark green to purple flowers. A variety, H. o. atrorubens is admired for its flowers that are greenish-purple inside and dark purple on the outside.

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