Newbie question about Helleborus hybrids

swontgirl_z5a(5a)March 14, 2012

I hope this doesn't sound like too silly a question(s) but I am just learning about these hellebores and they sure don't seem to be like anything else when you are trying to buy some.

I have 2 I planted last spring-an Ivory Prince and an H. niger. They seem to be doing well and both have buds showing although the Ivory Prince ones are still hidden in a little "package" of green. I don't know what the niger will look like-it seems there are different ones from what I have read but I understand the Ivory Prince will be as it should look. It is sold as a tissue culture plant right?

But that is where things get confusing for me.

I understand that many Hellebores are sold as seed strains. This means they are actual seedlings of certain plants. Yet they are named as a certain thing. Are they actually that thing or not? And how do the sellers know that is what your plant will look like? Do they have to sell old enough plants that they have bloomed and know the ones they are selling look enough like the parent that they can name it that?

I bought 4 this spring at a garden show and they are in my basement now under lights. Two are blue lady and red lady. These are seed strains that I have read come 80% true from seeds. I guess I have an 80% chance of them looking like they should. Sounds like good odds but someone has to get the 20% right?

I have seen mixtures for sale that could look like just about anything and that makes sense to me. I also bought 2 of these and look forward to seeing what I got!

And some seem to be tissue cultured so they look like the "real thing". This seems to be about the safest bet.

Is there a way to know when you go to a garden centre or order online and buy a helleborus plant with a name that that is what you will get? And is there any guarantee if it doesn't? Can you tell if it is a tissue culture or just a seed strain by looking at the tag or the name?

Sorry for all the questions. This is all new to me and certainly not like any other plants I have!

Thanks for any help or advice!


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claysoil(z6 PA)

Sounds like you have things figured out pretty well! For each named series, you have to research it yourself to find out if it is TC (tissue cultured)and thus guaranteed to look like the parent, or a strain with a certain percentage of true-ness. I fortunatley have a grower who can give me the back ground when I am at her green house. The best advice in the hellebore world seems to be to buy plants when they are in bloom so you can see what you are getting. Not all of us can get to thses green houses though, and plants old enough to bloom are going to cost a lot more than younger plants. Sometimes reading the tag does give you a clue as to how true the plants will run. TC plants tend to state it, I think.

I don't claim to know as much as others at this forum, but I don't know of any special short cuts unless the info is right there on the tag. A lack there of would make me think "strain! Don't know what you are geting!"

    Bookmark   March 16, 2012 at 11:19AM
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What you can expect to get depends on the type of hybrids you are dealing with. The oriental hybrids - more correctly Helleborus x hybridus - are those that will self-hybridize freely so are typically sold as seed strains. All that means is that the grower has kept like colored plants separate from other colors. These are sometimes sold as named forms but for the named forms to come true they MUST be propagated clonally or by TC. Seed propagated forms of named xhybridus can deviate quite easily from the parent plants depending on how pollination is controlled. These are the hybrids I would suggest you select while in bloom as that is really the only way you can be assured of a specific color/look.

Other hybrids like 'Ivory Prince', 'Pink Marble', 'Cinnamon Snow', 'Pink Ice', 'Candy Love', etc. are quite different and highly controlled hybrids. Typically these are all propagated by tissue culture, as a good many do not/cannot occur naturally but are hybridized by hand over many years of trial and error and with a great deal of expense involved as well. These are most often patented plants as a result. These do not offer the range of color the xhybridus.....most of these flower in the whitish-green range with pink/mauve overtones.

And Helleborus niger is a species not a hybrid :-) Flowers of these will always be white, so inevitably come true to form. There ARE named forms of niger, but they have more to do with profusion, timing or height of bloom rather than any difference in coloring.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2012 at 4:58PM
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Thanks for your answers!
I am going to try and get out to a nursery but many don't open that early in the season here and from what I understand the Hellebores will be blooming soon. Don't know when they will get the plants in either but I could phone a couple and find out. How long do the Hellebores usually bloom for? If it's like most perennial plants that nurseries get in, the blooms are finished long before they would be in your garden.

"All that means is that the grower has kept like colored plants separate from other colors"
Not knowing how Helleborus colours breed, does this statement mean that you will at least get a seedling that is in the same colour range as the name?

Do you think the TC would be mentioned on the tag if the plant is from that method of propagation? I do agree the patented part is probably a good indicator of TC.

I can see that the research would help but when you are at a garden center already that is difficult to do! Guess I need an Iphone- will have to take my daughter with me!

It just seems like a difficult way to buy plants and you read about so mnay people not getting anything but green. I wish I had a hybridizer closeby-it would make it so much easier!

Any other tips for buying hellebores, reading tags and getting what you want?

    Bookmark   March 16, 2012 at 5:30PM
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Not knowing how Helleborus colours breed, does this statement mean that you will at least get a seedling that is in the same colour range as the name?

For the seed strain types of Helleborus x hybridus that are sold as a specific color, yes :-) In other words, your Blue Lady and Red Lady are color seed strains, so should be expected to produce blue and red flowers respectively. There are other types of seed strains that focus on attributes other than color, like doubles or upward facing flowers. Very few xhybridus varieties are propagated by tissue culture so I'd be very leary of purchasing any named forms (not seed strains) unless they are already in flower and you can confirm coloring is true to type. This only applies to the xhybridus varities - the other types of hybrids are far more likely to a) be propagated by TC or b) clonally/asexually. These should - no guarantees with anything horticultural - come true to form. And as I stated, these have a much more limited color range than due the xhybridus varieties.

I'm not sure I would rely solely on the tag info to determine if the plants was TC grown or not.....and certainly not with any of the xhybridus varieties. I think it is just a case of doing your research ahead of time and your post makes a very good start in that direction. Doing an online search under botanical name, including the seed strain or cultivar name if appropriate, should provide additional info as well.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2012 at 6:39PM
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Hi again,
Will the tags usually say if the plant is xhybridus or some other hybrid?
Thanks for the explanation of how some seed strains work. I never thought of colour OR attributes but that does make sense.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2012 at 6:47PM
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Somewhere on the plant tag should be the botanical name and that should say Helleborus x hybridus for those appropriate. I say 'should' because many of these hybrids are still being sold under the incorrect nominclature of Helleborus orientalis or orientalis hybrids -- that may be an alternative label but you should be getting the same type of hybrid. The label may further distinguish the plant by seed strain - i.e., red or blue lady, Mardi Gras apricot, etc.

Often the other types of hybrids may not reveal the hybrid type but the tag would have the botanical name of Helleborus 'Ivory Prince', for example. It is not absolute, but generally named forms will be the non-xhybridus hybrids, if that makes any sense :-) And you can tell from the foliage and typically how the plant flowers - xhybridus foliage is pretty distinct from the other types of hybrids and the flowers bloom on leafless stalks.

If you would like to read up a bit more on these hybrids and seed strains, there is an excellent website on hellebores developed by a former GW member that explains this quite well. Plus, it offers a lot of valuable and helpful info about growing these plants.

Here is a link that might be useful: The Genus Helleborus

    Bookmark   March 18, 2012 at 2:20PM
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That is a great website-very informative.
I am looking forward to getting out to some garden centres in a few weeks to see what they have for Hellebores. I am sure that will explain thngs too. Although it could be addictive just going to see which ones are in bloom. I had better take my husband so I am not buying alot of other stuff every time I go!

    Bookmark   March 18, 2012 at 7:24PM
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claysoil(z6 PA)

Bottoom line, you want to see a hybridus blooming when you buy it!

A few years ago I purchased 3 Southern Belles too young to bloom and was told "they are usually but not always double". All 3 of mine turned out to be anemones, not doubles. They are very pretty, but I had been hoping for doubles. These were a strain, and that is what happens. Their progeny have included some doubles, but that is another topic!

    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 11:45AM
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I am going to see some hellebores at a garden center about 45 minutes away tomorrow. I just read their ad in the paper and it says they have blooming Hellebores! I hope they are blooming when I get there. Can't wait! Hope the tags make sense to me but either way I am not buying anything without seeing it! It should be educational at least!

    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 12:29PM
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Well I bought a H. x hybridus Peppermint Ice today. I picked out one that was very double and had good colour. There was one that was a much larger plant but I didn't like the bloom as well. I see now the variation that happens with them. There was one that was completely white and labelled the same. They also had Golden Lotus, Black Onyx and Ivory Prince. My Ivory prince bloomed yesterday. Hellebores certainly are an interesting plant. My husband has already started asking about seedlings!

    Bookmark   March 25, 2012 at 7:37PM
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