Arrival of the Lenten Rose

I waited patiently for the snow to melt. Most years, it is a treat to find my first flowers — always a Lenten rose — in bloom on March 1. But this year snow blanketed the ground. Tempted as I was to dig in the snow to see if the creamy white blooms were ready to announce spring, I waited for the thaw.

I was not disappointed. My Lenten rose plants had been snuggled under the blanket of snow and the protection afforded by last year’s fading plants.

The Lenten rose, named “Plant of the Year” in 2005 by the Perennial Plant Association for its many superior characteristics, also is commonly known as a hellebore. In the days before modern medicine, a tincture from the hellebore was a mainstay in the medicine bag of every good apothecary, though its roots are known to be poisonous. (My dog doesn’t dig up roots to eat and animal poisoning from hellebores is rare.) Folklore even says that Alexander the Great died hellebore poison.

In the 1929 book, “Perennials of Flowerland” (The Macmillan Company), Alice T. A. Quackenbush, noted the name hellebore means, “food of death.” She also wrote, “Probably blooming in any other time, the plant would seem of little garden value; when one remembers that it is possible to dig through snow and find bloom, it becomes precious.”

The Lenten rose grows well in USDA cold hardiness zones 4 through 9. Evansville is in zone 6B. While the Lenten rose is not at all related to the common rose, I plan to enjoy these first blooms until my roses bloom.

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