gardengal48November 26, 2008

This forum I mean :-) It has been too quiet here for too long. Let's get some discussions going!! It is rapidly approaching that time of year when these great plants start doing their H. argutifolius 'Sliver Lace' is already showing some serious buds, as are several 'Ivory Prince', which in my climate are extremely early to bloom plus stay in bloom for months.

Having worked this past season for a large wholesale grower, I've noticed a great many new named forms of x hybridus on the market......apparently tissue culture is going to make it a lot easier for us to purchase specific colored/marked forms at any time of year, not just when they are in bloom so we can verify the color. Personally, I think this is a good thing. What say the rest of you?

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katob Z6ish, NE Pa

Ahhhhh. To be in the PNW this time of year..... or just about anywhere with a warmer winter! Here it will be several months before we see any signs of life, but for now i do see buds formed and waiting for winter to come and go.

I have one named TC plant, an HGC silvermoon which is new this year and I'm looking forward to seeing bloom. Without TC I wouldn't have this plant.... but I'm sure I could have had a similar seedling that for as much as i know, would appear to me to be just as good!

If you have the need for a specific color/type TC would obviously be the safest bet, but I for one think quality bred seedlings are far more interesting. I have a bunch coming along that I am very excited about (although only two or three MIGHT bloom this spring)and for me that's half the fun.

On the other hand, I have seen some hellebores that actually would qualify as ugly that were for sale at Home Depot. I think in the rush to have enough supply on hand for a perennial plant of the year, quality went to the sidelines. If I only had room for one or two hellebores, I wouldn't want to devote even a single week to growing one of those dogs.....

    Bookmark   November 30, 2008 at 8:56PM
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kato, 'Silvermoon' is remarkably like 'Ivory Prince'......very similar parentage. In fact, seeing the two plants side by side, I think it would be very difficult to differentiate the two - it was for me!!

And I agree that if one is interested in developing their own seedling strain of Helleborus x hybridus, by all means follow through to see what you get. Could be some very nice plants in that mix. OTOH, one may have to go through a lot of seedlings to find just one with unique markings or the specific coloration one is searching for. TC makes it that much easier for those of us that don't have the time or space available to experiment with seedlings and can go right to the specific colors we had in mind.

The other thing I like about a number of the new TC introductions is that they have focused on characteristics that produce superior plants. For example, H. niger was always a dog in my is just too damp here in winter and spring and niger too prone to botrytis. But the HGC nigers.....'Joseph Lemper', 'Jacob' and 'Joshua'.....are outstanding plants: very floriferous, tall stems, very early blooming and no sign of botrytis after what may have been the wettest spring and summer on record here. They are keepers!

I also noticed a previous posting on this forum that remarked that Corsican hellebore, H. argutifolius, was impossible to grow in much of this country. As it originates from very hot, dry locations (Corsica and Sardinia), argutifolius may not be well suited for the humidity of the south. But it does fine in more maritime, coastal locations and is best sited in as much sun as possible......if you can grow lavender, you should be able to grow H. argutifolius.

The concept that hellebores are shade loving plants is tough to overcome - they are merely shade tolerant but prefer some direct sun (mornings may be best) and will flower best as well be more upright and erect if given sufficient sunlight.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2008 at 10:05AM
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Ahhhhh. To be in the PNW this time of year..... or just about anywhere with a warmer winter!

Been there, done that! I'll take the cold winters and hot summers anytime. Lived in Bermuda for 2 years and that was the most boring climate I've ever encountered! Having grown up in the Midwest, I'm used to cold winters, snow cover, frozen ground, blizzards, etc. and here in my area, at the southern terminus of the Appalachians, I can either have a Zone 5 winter or a Zone 9 one, just depends upon the whims of Mother Nature!

Back to the subject.
We are near the southern margin of growing many species of H, and about the only ones that can be found are seed grown x hybridus, and as you pointed out, cato_b, many uglies in the lot. I grow thousands of open-pollinated H seedlings in sitand have composted hundreds, that were more attractive than the ones offered, at ridiculous prices.
We had one nursery that imported some x hybridus TC's from Poland, but they only had one hue, white! Thousands of them!
Haven't found anyone in this area selling the HGC nigers. Nurseries listen to the "experts" that proclaim H. niger won't grow here. Friends in PA are surprised that I would even consider planting one. Every time I pass one of my 20+ year old nigers in the garden, I remark to it, the "experts" say you are supposed to be dead. Glad I didn't listen to "them"!
You are correct, gardengal48, it has been a mission of mine for many years to educate gardeners about where to plant Hellebores in their garden. I had one planted in low evergreen shade, to cite as an example to friends and visitors, that they will grow there, but will probably never bloom. Mine didn't, during the 10 or so years it was there.
H. argutifolius will grow here, in fact it thrives, if sited correctly. Does best in afternoon sun, well drained, dry-ish soil and soil lacking in abundant nutrients. The variegated and silver-leaf forms require too much attention, are very slow growing and aren't worth the effort, IMO.
H. foetidus is a short lived perennial for me, but it reseeds so profusely that, unless you tag the Mother plant, you would never know it's missing!

Tissue culture will eventually enable many fine H hybrids and clones to reach the mass market, at reasonable prices, but from my observations, today's retail vendors apparently aren't willing to pass any savings through to their potential customers. Markups of 350-400% are fairly common, on turn-arounds.
Guess they figure that saves labor costs of having to pack and ship too many of their plants!

In my search for a source of HGC Silvermoon, I found a self-proclaimed H "expert" nursery owner, that didn't even know the correct provenance of the plant! Am I willing to purchase any plants from this person? Not in this lifetime!

Hope the traffic will escalate on this Forum when the beauties begin to bloom. There's not many sights more exciting than, arising on a cold morning and peer out the windows to see H blooms peeking out of a fresh blanket of snow! And the Robins & Waxwings devouring the berry crop!

    Bookmark   December 4, 2008 at 3:53AM
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katob Z6ish, NE Pa

Hi razorback,
I don't think I could handle no season changes at all- I'm quite happy with the 4 we have.... but I might be going through just a tiny bit of garden withdrawl right about now, so that's the reason for my zone envy.

I should have picked you up a silvermoon during one of the fall clearances up here. I think I paid $7 for a well cared for plant.... but my nursery must be pretty good as far as markups go, even a few labeled as double (not big enough to bloom that spring, so maybe seedlings?)were reg priced around $15.

This weekend I might weaken and order a few more seeds from ElizabethTown. I'm just starting to dabble in hellebores and want to get a new bunch of seedlings coming along. What I would really like to try is a few O'Byrne seedlings, but the last prices I saw was about $18 a plant, which is a little rich for me.

So what is it about the south that hellebores don't like? I would guess its mostly the humidity, right?

ps-I grow most of my hellebore(hybrids) in sun/part shade, the only problem I run into is lack of water and daytime wilting as a result.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2008 at 9:49PM
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Sorry about the misspelling of your screen name in the previous post!

The O'Byrne seed strain is interesting, but I have a nearby friend that has been hybridizing H x hybridus for about 25 years and obtains seed from many sources in several Euro countries. He has many unusual colors, picotees and variegated flower types. I have some of them, but as you mentioned, they aren't cheap.

There is no concensus among the H growers, regarding the reason for lack of vigor of the H acaulescent species in the deep south. When someone ventures an opinion, it is usually summer heat and drought during that period.
My opinion is, that the soil temperature and lack of moisture are the primary reasons that many species of H do not thrive in the deep south (Zone 8+).
My soil temperature can reach temps of 80+°F during some torrid summers, with sparse rainfall, but drops into the low 30's during the winter, during the flowering and beginning of the new growth cycle. We have experienced some winters when the air temperatures were -12°F and ground was frozen several inches deep. With no snow cover, a lot of perennials/shrubs didn't survive.
In a maritime location, such as the coastal regions along the Gulf of Mex., some gardeners have had success growing H. x hybridus.

There is a wholesale nursery about 150 miles north of me that sells H. niger 'HGC Josef Lemper' and HGC 'Silvermoon' in 8" containers. They do not ship, only deliver with their own trucks, which requires a minimum order of $1500,
but will sell in small quanities, if you pick up at the nursery. With the price of fuel continuing to decline, I may go there within the next few months and bring back a small load!

    Bookmark   December 6, 2008 at 4:09PM
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In my experience, although I'm not in the deep,deep south, most hellebores are lost here due to a combination of heat, humidity, and excess moisture in the summer. My established plants seem to withstand almost any degree of drought, but too much rain and poor drainage when they are essentially dormant is a sure way to kill them. I have taken to growing plants in raised beds and porous containers to provide better drainage than my heavy clay will permit.

Many of my plants (I've been collecting and breeding for about 17 years now) are showing buds, and I have a big clump of x nigercors in full bloom right now - the earliest it's ever done so.

As to the sucess of tissue cultured plants, I have mixed feelings. It's great to have superior plants available to everyone, but part of the appeal of the hybrids, for me, anyway, has been that each is unique. That, coupled with the fact that finding really good ones has always required some effort, increases their desirability in my mind. What excuse would I have for driving four hours in each direction to the Pine Knot Farms open house in February if the best hybrids were available at the big box stores? Looking forward to that little trip is one of the things that helps me survive the winter. As long as my partner doesn't get wise to the fact that it really isn't necessary anymore, I guess I can come down in favor of tissue culture (not that my opinion matters, anyway!)

    Bookmark   December 7, 2008 at 5:31AM
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Your point regarding TC is well taken.
My thoughts are, that it can potentially foster the popularity of the Genus, by increasing the availability of some attractive plants at a reasonable Price. So far, I have found only one local nursery that sells TC H. x hybridus plants at a price that would entice first time buyers to take some home. ($1.50 ea. or 7/$10, flowering size).

Another negative aspect of x hybridus, it the attitude of the calyx, which prevents direct frontal viewing of the flower, without lifting them by hand or other means. Flower show exhibitors of the plants, come home disappointed and often fuming, as the judges always give them low marks, because of that feature. Some breeders are trying to develop plants with horizontal or upright facing flowers, but that may prevent seed production, since the hanging flowers are designed to attract certain pollinators that are active during their flowering cycle.

I have managed to kill my share of H's, but have only lost 2 mature x hybridus plants, since I began growing them more than 20 years ago. One was due to an A/C installer, that was replacing my unit and rerouted the existing condensation drain into a flower bed and drowned the H before I realized what he had done. The second one suddenly died of still unknown causes, but left behind dozens of healthy seedlings.

All of my H's are located in raised beds, under mostly deciduous trees. The red clay soil is generously amended with composted, ground pine bark to improve drainage and dolomite is added to raise the pH above 6.5. Tree roots absorb much of the available moisture and during recent years, we have very seldom had enough rainfall to cause overwatering concerns! For the past two years, we have experienced drought conditions, from severe to exceptional (the worst classification) and it has been necessary to irrigate the entire garden, year around.

I have never been to Pine Knot Farms, nor purchased anything from the Tylers. It's a personal thing.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2008 at 12:55PM
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Rb said: Another negative aspect of x hybridus, it the attitude of the calyx, which prevents direct frontal viewing of the flower, without lifting them by hand or other means. Flower show exhibitors of the plants, come home disappointed and often fuming, as the judges always give them low marks, because of that feature. Some breeders are trying to develop plants with horizontal or upright facing flowers, but that may prevent seed production, since the hanging flowers are designed to attract certain pollinators that are active during their flowering cycle.

There is a hellebore grower here in the UK who is trying to produce plants with outward facing flowers. Although he is a high profile grower, he has no idea how hellebores work or why certain characteristics appear consistently. What he and others trying to stabilise the trait of outward facing flowers don't realise is that the pedicel and the length of the pedicel, which dictates whether or not the flower will face down, reacts to environment and probably can't be genetically stabilised. A plant bought with short pedicels, making the flower outward facing is likely to produce longer pedicels during a more mild winter or in lower than usual light conditions. I've seen it happen so many times when hellebores are completely different when moved to a new garden or even to a different spot in the same garden.

The same grower wants to produce a hybrid which retains throughout the year the dark red/black foliage that some hybrids show on newly emerging foliage. Again, it's not going to happen. That dark colour is produced by anthocyanins as a reaction to cold temperatures and high UV levels associated with a high altitude environment. The chemicals in the foliage fade and conditions become more favourable as spring becomes summer.

Rather than attract pollinators, the flowers hang down to protect the reproductive organs from inclement weather; keeping pollen dry for example. I've studied pollinators in the wild and although bees do act as pollinators when the weather is good enough for them to fly, the most common pollinator (apart from wind) I have seen is a small, hairy beetle. These beetles end up caked in pollen and polinate as they move all over the inside of the flower.

As for plants produced by TC; I am uneasy about it. I'm not as bothered about it as I used to be, but that's got more to do with the fact that after eight years, I am no longer specialising in species (or any other) hellebores at my nursery. Too much time involved and not enough reward. Now that the nursery is a full time venture, that's not good enough.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2008 at 5:07AM
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katob Z6ish, NE Pa

Now that I have googled what a pedicel is, I guess I won't get too excited if I get a plant that has outward facing flowers. But I do have a seedling that has nice divided leaves... not as fancy as multifidus (which I need to try) but the leaves are nice enough to be noticed in my garden.

I don't know if I would even need a dark leaved hellebore. The foliage is kind of heavy to begin with and I feel a red/black color would be too much. Nice enough with the blooms in the spring, but later as the leaves increase in size and fill in -a little gloomy.

Just my opinion, and of course I'm more of a yellow foliage person.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2008 at 8:50AM
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jgwoodard(USDA z7 TN)

Tissue culture certainly has its advantages for producers and consumers, but I'm not a fan. It does take a long time to grow and select quality plants from seed or unbloomed seedlings, but that has been my approach for the last ten years. I feel a sense of satisfaction in having undergone that process, and I enjoy the fact that even though I've only managed to amass fifty or so 'excellent' stock plants in that time, they are each unique and occur only in my garden. It's true they are similar to others in the world, but they are not the same. They are members of my family, each slightly unique like pets or children. :-)

Speaking of eye candy, it's best to look at an updated version of the O'Byrne plants (link below) as the link posted above was from years ago and shows a very limited range. They are now releasing their hybrids to the public (via Terra Nova under the trademark 'Winter Jewels'), another plus for hellebore enthusiasts.

Sources are incredibly important. Whether they are European or Japanese or Australian etc is unimportant. What is important is the quality of plants that their seed produces. There is huge variability, and often private sources who have spectacular collections are the best. Some seed and seedling sources are worth the gamble. NWGN is one, but within a few years when unscrupulous growers start selling seedlings of 'Winter Jewels' as 'Winter Jewels', the retail offerings under the name will likely get diluted like so many others.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 11:17PM
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Hi Joseph, nice to see you posting again!

but within a few years when unscrupulous growers start selling seedlings of 'Winter Jewels' as 'Winter Jewels', the retail offerings under the name will likely get diluted like so many others.

This is exactly why I think tissue culture is so valuable. It creates exact replications of the original plant without the potential for dilution from inferior propagation practices. Unfortunately this is all too common with seed strains of x hybridus or other fertile hybrids that cross-pollinate freely. And trademarking does nothing to guarantee the purity of the strain. How this ridiculous practice got to be so common in horticultural propagation is beyond me but it is a total waste of time and money on the part of the breeder. If you want to protect your plant, patent it.

btw, I refer to your website often and recommend it to many who wish to become more familiar with these plants. It's an excellent resource and thank you for taking the time to create it.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2009 at 1:42PM
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I am really surprised that Dan is producing the "Winter Jewels" and that a patent was not applied for. Maybe the decision was not his to make.
I am growing some of those, obtained earlier in the past year, but will make no evaluation of them, until they produce multiple flowers. So far, the TC's do not appear to be as vigorous as some others that were produced at TN.

The doubles are interesting plants, but so far I can't become enthused with them, since I haven't seen ones with the very attractive and interesting flower (calyx) hue combinations of the singles.

The "Royal Heritage" seed strain is a prime example of a seed strain being bastardized by growers interested in quantity vs quality. I have a few of the very early production plants and the ones now being offered bear little resemblance to those, except in price!

Joseph, Thanks for a great website!

    Bookmark   January 21, 2009 at 1:44AM
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jgwoodard(USDA z7 TN)

Thanks gardengal and Rb for the kind words! It's nice to see some interesting discussions here.

I agree that TC is very valuable; I just have philosophical biases regarding it. Viewed in that way, I'm the one missing out. :-) The plants are copies of originals though, so we still need people doing the original selective breeding. Thankfully, they do and have extra plants because the variety available through tissue culture is very small. One of the ironies of TC is that it increases the variety of available plants in some ways and limits it in others.

It is my understanding that the O'Byrnes produce the 'Winter Jewels' and that Terra Nova is the distributor. 'Royal Heritage' is indeed a perfect example; however, it was never a real strain to begin with but simply a brand name for a mixed group of Helleborus x hybridus plants (which, represented a range and quality that was perhaps commercially unique at the time). In contrast, the O'Byrne plants have a brand name (TM Winter Jewels) and are segregated into individual seed strains, as well as 'mix' categories that are not strains. I'm not sure how you would patent a seed strain. Isn't that impossible and pointless? Patents are best reserved for individual sterile hybrids in hellebores, i.e. to prevent others from reproducing them vegetatively and selling them. Trying to prevent people from selling seedlings of patented plants is a hilarious notion, especially in Helleborus x hybridus. :-)

I think one good thing about having the trademark and a sole distributor is simply to say: look, if you purchase these you are getting the real thing (plants bred by the O'Byrnes), but if you purchase them under that name from another distributor, don't call and complain about the quality.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2009 at 11:25PM
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I'm not sure how the plant patent process works, but some plant hybridizers and cultivar producers, that I know, view it as a farce and don't avail themselves of it's protection.

It is my understanding that any new plant produced by hybridization and selected as superior to either or all of the parents or found as a unique fortuitous seedling in a cultivated or native habitat and retains those qualities during asexual reproduction and subsequent cultivation, can be patented. It also has to be a new market introduction.

Since the O'Byrne collections were apparently produced by hybridization and selection and are only being sold as asexually produced clones, then I would think they would be elgible for a patent.
Presently, only Terra Nova is producing them, but who can say that another producer won't purchase some, ship them off-shore for TC, for pennies apiece, and flood the market with exact replicas, minus the tradenark name and with new cultivar names!
Most gardeners purchase Helleborus that appeals to them, provenance is of little or no concern.
I have even found Helleborus "experts" at one nursery that didn't know that basic, widely published information about one of the Helleborus plants they were selling.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2009 at 3:24AM
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jgwoodard(USDA z7 TN)


I'm curious. What makes you think that the O'Byrne plants are being produced asexually? I think they're just seedlings. From the description it would seem they aren't clones.

"There will be variation in the progeny from each individual plant just as the children from one couple do not look alike."

    Bookmark   January 24, 2009 at 9:00PM
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My previous purchases of Helleborus from TN were TC's and I assumed that they would be producing these by the same method. I carefully checked their ads that I routinely receive via email and there was no mention or disclaimer that these were seedlings, but a call to their sales force verified that you were correct, they are seedlings!
That fact should have been disclosed in all of their promotions, so that their customers could make an informed decision. Since they are shipping small, unbloomed seedlings, the resulting flower hues may not resemble the accompanying plant tags!

    Bookmark   January 26, 2009 at 2:39PM
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