Sunday, February 7, 2010

Helleborus thibetanus

The genus Helleborus is made up of a group of species in Europe and Asia minor, with the majority of species found in the Meditteranean countries and the former Yugoslavia. The lone species found in China, Helleborus thibetanus (also known as H. chinensis) is seperated from the other species by a vast distance. While the species has been "known" to western botanists from herbarium speciemens that go back to the 1800's, it was not until the 1990's that live speciemens of this species became available. Kew Gardens obtained seed in 1991 and their first flowering was in January 1997, and in the mid-1990's a small number of plants were made available from China.

Both the flowers and the foliage is more delicate than the other hellebores,and the blooms in particular are reminiscent of Glaucidium . Flowers are variable most opening white and quickly aging to pink with red viening. Some open pink and others open green. I suspect that selection of better than average forms will quickly take place and further improve an already terrific plant.

In the limited area in central China were the species is found, grows in moist north facing slopes, with moisture loving species such as Ostrich Fern and Petasites. Indeed the species is not nearly as drought tolerant as the other Hellebores, we lost our first plant by planting it in a too dry a spot, despite the fact that a number of other Hellebore species are perfectly happy in that bed.

The plant starts growth very early, and if allowed to dry out at all over the growing season, goes dormant and dissapears entirely early in the season. Our second attempt at this species has proven to be more successful with the first blooms this year. The last few years I have been bulking the plant up with early applications of fertilzer and ensuring the plant is kept moist over the growing season - it seems to have paid off, for its first year in bloom two of the crowns have blossomed and it has 13 blooms to date.

Sources: Our plants came from Thimble Farms on Salt Spring Island,they have a spectacular collection of Hellebores for sale this year.

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