What are Christmas Roses?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Christmas -- or Lenten -- roses bloom in the cold weather and, despite their name, are not closely related to the rose.
Christmas -- or Lenten -- roses bloom in the cold weather and, despite their name, are not closely related to the rose.

Christmas Roses are evergreen flowering plants which are distinctive because they bloom in the winter, the period during which the rest of the garden remains dormant. These flowering plants are relatively easy to grow, and they provide a note of bright color and hope in the winter, along with rich evergreen foliage year-round. You may also hear Christmas Roses called Lenten Roses, Snow Roses, or Winter Roses, depending on regional terminology.

Despite the name, Christmas Roses are not actually in the rose family. They are more formally known as Helleborus niger, and they belong to a large genus of plants which closely resemble each other. The hellebores are native to Europe, where they have been cultivated for centuries and used in a variety of ways. Many species including the Christmas Rose also happen to be toxic to both people and animals, which is something you should be aware of when planting them.

The common name for this plant probably comes from the fact that the Christmas Rose superficially resembles some rose cultivars, with five snow white petals and lush green foliage. These plants will thrive in USDA zones four through eight, and they prefer a section of the garden which gets as much light as possible during the winter. The blooming period runs from late fall to early spring, making the Christmas Rose a welcome addition to the garden for people who find themselves depressed by dreary winters.

There are a number of stories about this plant and its origins. Some people say, for example, that Christmas Roses were a gift from God at the time of the birth of Christ, to celebrate His arrival. Since the Christmas Rose sometimes waits until Easter to bloom in some regions, other people associate it with the Resurrection.

Several commercial cultivars of Christmas Roses are available, including cultivars which have been bred to display faint tinges of color like yellow, green, and pink. Because these colors can be variable, if you want a colored variety, you may want to purchase it from a nursery while it is blooming to ensure that the color meets your expectations. These plants like alkaline to semi-alkaline soil, and they prefer partial shade in the spring and summer months. Hellebores also thrive on pruning, so don't be afraid to cut the foliage back if it becomes unsightly.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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    • Christmas -- or Lenten -- roses bloom in the cold weather and, despite their name, are not closely related to the rose.
      Christmas -- or Lenten -- roses bloom in the cold weather and, despite their name, are not closely related to the rose.