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I’m sorry I missed blogging about Earth Day this weekend (it was yesterday).  The day always strikes me as a dark combination of scolding and corporate greenwashing (to say nothing of the abusive narcissistic murderer who started it, but, alas, the concerns it focuses on are all too real. I need to get back to writing about humankind’s ever-growing burden on the planet in earnest.

But for right now I am going to back away from these huge unsettling issues and feature some springtime images from my garden and neighborhood.  I am a flower gardener, and while I have some doubts about the flower gardener’s ecological niche, I know it keeps me sane.  The flowers also remind me to love nature and esteem the natural world (not that I would ever feel otherwise). Also, it is a discipline which necessitates patience and the ability to change course when faced with problems.  Anyway, enough sententious thoughts: it has been a long winter, let’s see some spring flowers!  The magnolia at the top of the post is across the street from my house. It is hard to tell from the picture, but the house behind it is slightly pink, and seeing the tree in full flower in front of the house during the violet hour of dusk is breathtaking in a way which the image (and these words) completely fail to explicate.

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Now, here is a picture from the back garden—this is the hellebore and the bleeding heart with a couple of volunteer Don Quichotte tulips from years ago next to them and a little viola in the foreground. Years ago I planted this hellebore which has barely survived for 5 years before suddenly flourishing into this magnificent specimen plant.  There is a peony to the right, but it is too early for it to be more than just some tender fronds poking up.  The hellebore, the magnolia, and the primrose are really just the garden overture.  The big acts are soon to follow, but, after a long gray winter even these flowers have me giddy with delight.  I will feature more plants as they bloom—especially the splendid cherry tree, but for now let’s just enjoy the lovely blossoms.  We will also keep working on a way to preserve their home (the ecosystem of the planet) so that the springs of the future will be equally verdant.

Hellebore

Spring has not sprung in Brooklyn–not at all.  However, as winter marches on and the days slowly become longer, the garden begins to beckon. Nature’s ancient power will not be denied.  My garden may be ice and mud but, out there in the wider New York area, the very first flowers of the season have already come into bloom.  Looking at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden bloom list reveals that the hellebores have just opened up (unless you are reading this at some later point, in which case its still a great link).

Hellebores are also called Lenten roses because they come into blossom so early.  The name is a complete misnomer since they are actually part of the Ranunculaceae family along with buttercups and, um, ranunculuses.  The plants are very beautiful.  The pure white H. niger blooms even in the midst of frost and snow. Helleborus orientalis is widely grown for the many delicate colors of its flowers.  Despite its ghastly name, Helleborus foetidus is known and loved for its pale green flowers which stand out prettily against its dark evergreen leaves. Do not, however, be taken in by the beauty of the hellebores: they contain a very potent toxin. Some species such as H. viridis contain compounds which cause ringing of the ears, confusion, thirst, a feeling of suffocation, swelling of the tongue and throat, slowing of the heart, and ultimately death from cardiac arrest.  Even the virginal white Helleborus niger causes burning sensations, oral sores and terrifying gastritis when ingested so do not eat these plants!

Helleborus Niger

Hellebores grow widely across Europe and the near east, however the greatest concentration of species can be found around the Balkans.  Many myths and legends have come to be associated with the dangerous plants.  The flowers were sacred to Hecate the underworld godess of magic, sorcery, and crossroads.  This association with witchcraft and the underworld has made the hellebore the subject of much dark poetry.

Agh! It's Hecate!

In the absence of useful remedies, ancient Greek physicians treated psychological disorders with hellebore.  It has been speculated that Alexander the Great may have died from hellebore which he was self-administering.  Hellebore holds a further place in history as an early chemical warfare agent.  During the Siege of Kirrha in 585 BC, the Greek besiegers poisoned the city’s water supply with hellebore.  So many of the defenders were undone by the herb’s purgative effects that the city fell and the Greeks slaughtered all of the inhabitants.

Hmm, that got darker then I intended, my real point was to enjoy the first lovely blooms of the year.  Spring is finally on its way!

Pam's Early Purple Hellebore available from Pineknot farms

 

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