Hellebore Hybrids: How Doubles Evolve

Two patterned pink hellebores
Pretty in pink

Although we think of hellebores as having petals, technically they are sepals, which accounts for their flowers’ longevity. This single hellebore is one of my favourites I’ve seen this year.

Patterned pink hellebore, close up
Patterned pink hellebore

Looking inside, the veining is soft. Pink patches on the left and right of each sepal almost form a star shape.

Single hellebores have a ring of tiny, flattened tubes called nectaries around the base of the stamens. In the first flower, they are green.

Dark purple hellebore
Purple hellebore

In the dark purple hellebore the nectaries appear black against the pale green centre.

Nectaries are petals that evolved by shrinking and curling to form tiny containers for nectar to attract pollinators. Natural yeast in the nectar ferments, adding to the allure (don’t think of sampling the nectar: all parts of hellebores are toxic to humans).

Hellebore semi-double pale yellow
Semi-double yellow

In doubles and semi-doubles, this process is gradually reversing, often with human intervention as breeders seek out novelties. The nectaries elongate and turn more petal-like, as in the primrose yellow semi-double hellebore above.

Hellebore double white
White double

Double hellebores have lost their nectaries completely. But for the tiniest smattering of spots, this one would be pure white.

Hellebore flowers of different colours and one camellia
Floating hellebores with a plus one

From above, it’s hard to appreciate the variety in today’s plants as their heads hang downwards, so many gardens float different colours and forms of hellebores in a bowl for visitors to admire. This selection of singles, doubles and semis is from our trip to Wisley last month. It was only later that I noticed that one of the flowers is a camellia. It’s so obvious once you see it.

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