An expanded version of the article in The Garden (February 2001)
Helleborus niger and its hybrids
Early flowering in H. niger still pre-occupies many breeders. There are continual reports of individual plants flowering at, or even before Christmas, but so often this is caused by unusual weather conditions or local climate there is not yet a dependable early flowering strain. Thanksgiving, raised by Barry Glick at Sunshine Farm and gardens in West Virginia may prove an exception. In Australia and New Zealand, of course, there is less determination to find plants that flower at Christmas as Christmas falls in the summer but earlier flowering is still sought.
Robin White is working hard on a good pink-flowered form of H. niger and increasingly their tenacity as garden plants would be very useful; so many gardeners still find them difficult to keep for more than a few years. The Nell Lewis Strain is an unusually hardy strain selected by Pine Knot Farms in Virginia. Double and anemone-centred forms have also recently been reported, seed of an anemoine-centred form has been offered this year in the seed list of the Hardy Plant Society/Mid-Atlantic Group.
Hybrids between H. niger and other species, H. argutiolius, H. lividus and their hybrid H. x sternii, continue to excite more. Such hybrids are sterile, and Robin White has specialised, with great success, in producing dependable results from the seedlings of such crosses, especially H. x nigercors, which I have found to be a prolific garden plant. A recent report of a fertile form of H. x ballardiae (H. lividus x H. niger) (see The Garden
) may overoptimistic.
Over the decades reports have occasionally surfaced of hybrids between H. niger and H. orientalis and although these usually prove not to be hybrids there is more definite evidence from France of a true hybrid.