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Hellebores as Christmas Plants

     The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) has been the traditional Christmas plant for generations. It was first introduced to the United States in 1825 by Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first US Minister to Mexico. Its bright red bracts (they’re not really flowers) and green foliage pay homage to the season, and can be found in displays from malls and offices to schools and stores. I've always placed a few around the house to add a splash of color around the holidays, and I even succumbed to the mini rage of glitter spray once or twice. (The sparkly-er, the better according to my daughter.)

     My greenhouse grower husband grew tens of thousands of fantastic poinsettias over a period of 20 years, and he never got tired of them. But I did. After a couple weeks in the house, these four or five darn plants became completely useless. My annoyance would grow each time I had to water them, move them, or clean up the fallen leaves…and I admit, more than once, I just tossed them outside on a really cold day just to get rid of them.

     People tell me stories about keeping them year-round, and trying to get them to re-bloom. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Poinsettias need several weeks of uninterrupted dark at night (no household lights at night) alternating with bright light during the day. No wonder it’s so difficult to get them to re-bloom! Really, I couldn't be bothered.

     I don’t believe poinsettias will ever go completely out of style, but personally, I’m about done with them. I have chosen a different kind of plant for Christmas this year. Hellebores have been around for a long time, but they are traditionally known as a garden perennial that the deer don’t eat. Very cool! They come in reds, greens, white, off-white, pink, purple, yellow and combinations of all these colors. Their bloom time in the garden is late winter to early spring, but they can be tricked into blooming earlier, like Christmas time, without the dark/light combination required for poinsettias.

     Hellebores can brighten my house for the holidays, and as soon as the weather warms a bit, I will plant them in my perennial garden where they may bloom every spring for years and years. A season in the house, a lifetime in the garden! Now that's my kind of plant!


Hi Hill,

I found some cheery white with yellow centered Helleboros this year at Atlock Farm, our local, and wonderful, flower farm in manville , NJ. Although expensive, they do serve double duty as a perennial addition to my shade bed. I hadn't thought of looking for them in pots at Christmas time, as I have a bunch I have pinched from friends gardens, letting them spread naturally outside. They are dormant now, awake sometime in February (traditonal Christmas Rose). I saved the tag from the pot I recently scored--from Moravian Gardens--and intend to build on this idea next year. Like you, I love the color of the Poinsettia in the house now (all those variations they have come up with by cross bredding!) but dread how fast they dry out, and their inevitable leaf drop.Your post has spurred me on to a new (and better) Christmas tradition! Thanks and Merry Christmas to you all! Love, Ryder

Hilary Newell's picture

That's great Ryder!  The Yankee in me hates throwing things away, so I'm thrilled to be able to 're-use' these plants. The one in the photo cost $10.00 and has a ton of buds still to open. It was far cheaper than some poinsettias I've seen! Merry Christmas to you too!