If you don’t know what the hellebore looks like, then the name can summon up something dark and dangerous. And while this is true for the poisonous hellebore, you might be taken aback by just how pretty the flower is.
This becomes less surprising when you hear some other names for the hellebore: Christmas rose and snow rose sound much more dainty.
It is used to symbolize peace, calm, and serenity. Often seen over the holidays, the winter hellebore brings a joyful light to dark winter days. But beneath that happy meaning is a darker history. It can symbolize stress and anxiety.
It has been used since the times of Ancient Greece, and it’s found in Europe and Asia. With some wild variations across the species, it has had a fascinating cultural history. Read this guide to learn more.
What Does The Flower Mean?
The hellebore is quite a mysterious flower. Even the structure of it has some mystery — what we think are the petals are actually something else entirely. And mishandling it can lead to some nasty skin damage.
Despite this, it has a meaning of peace. It’s associated with tranquility and serenity. Particularly the Christmas rose and the Lenten rose, which are both varieties of hellebore.
But things are not always as they seem. This flower can take on a darker meaning, one of worry and anxiety. Thanks to its poisonous structure and mystical history, it can be a tricky flower to understand.
Etymological Meaning Of The Flower
You might be surprised to know the poisonous hellebore is not derived from the term “hell” at all. Instead, this witchy flower takes its name from another source.
Known commonly as the hellebore, the scientific name for this flower is the Helleborus. This is derived from the Ancient Greek work for the species: helleboros. The word is constructed from the Ancient Greek heleîn, which meant “to injure”, and borá, meaning “food”.
Most varieties of this flower are poisonous, and can cause serious, even life-threatening, damage if ingested. The Ancient Greek description of this flower recognized this property.
Hellebore has a few nicknames, including “Christmas rose” and “Lenten rose”. The name “Christmas rose” relates to an old tale, that stated the flower grew from the tears of a young girl who hadn’t got a gift for the baby Jesus. “Lenten rose” denotes the flowering time of the flower — as an early perennial, it’s often in bloom during Lent.
Despite the common names, it is not related to the rose family.
Symbolism Of The Flower
The symbolism of the hellebore is surprisingly contradictory. On the one hand, many sees it as a symbol of peace and tranquility. On the other hand, it expresses anxiety, and even scandal.
People has used it throughout history as both a cure for ailments, and a poison or purgative. With this, you can see how it came to have such a divisive meaning.
As a winter bloomer, it has often come into flower on Christmas day. Because of this, the hellebore has been called the Christmas rose. The Christmas rose is a symbol of peace and innocence.
But this flower also has close connections to witches and magic. The poisonous hellebore might be said to keep demons away, but it was also a symbol of anxiety and threat.
Flower Color Meaning
The white is associated with innocence and purity. It can also be a symbol for tranquility, and hope. The hellebore blooms in winter, bringing color when most of nature is dark. This early flower can remind us that there’s hope in the darkness.
Yellow and green hellebore have a similar meaning, but they’re also seen as joyful.
Pink hellebore are feminine, and often quite delicate. These can be used to symbolize peace, but darker pink flowers might take on a more playful meaning.
Purple flowers are typically an indication of respect, or royalty. The purple hellebore can either be light and pastel, almost bordering on pink, or it can be rich and dark. Purple hellebore may be given as a sign of respect.
Black hellebore is luxurious looking, and these mysterious flowers can sometimes be given as a symbol of goodbye. It may look (and sound) a little scary, but their elegance can act as a symbol for the magical history of the flower.
Meaningful Botanical Characteristics Of The Flower
The structure of the hellebore isn’t quite as simple as you might think it is. Its colorful and soft parts that look like petals are actually sepals.
The true petals are the nectarines, which are found at the center. These protect the stamens in the middle of the flower.
The hellebore flowers in winter, and can sometimes be found from November to March. This has led to some common names for it such as Christmas rose and Lenten rose.
Even handling it can be dangerous in some cases, due to the ranunculin and protoanemonin found on the leaves and stem. Handling the plant without gloves can lead to irritation. If you decide to grow this flower, it’s important to wear gloves when you care for it.
It can be several years before your hellebore seeds start to flower. But once it has come into flower, it will continue to bloom for some time to come. It is also quite a hardy plant, and can grow in a range of conditions.
It grows best in rich soil with good drainage. They require partial sun, and once planted, maintenance is minimal.
Special Occasions For The Hellebore Flower
With a meaning of tranquility and serenity, the hellebore can symbolize peace to someone who has been through a rough time. An early use of it was to keep away demons. For those who have recently struggled,it can be a sign of future peace.
Known as the Christmas rose, one of the best times to give it is during the festive period. They can add color to the garden around Christmastime, and keep on flowering in the weeks to follow.
Hellebore is also known as the Lenten Rose, because it tends to flower during Lent. If you know someone who has given something up for Lent, then a gift of this flower can be a nice way to support them.
The deep connection with witches and mysticism makes it an excellent gift for a friend fascinated by the occult.
It can be quite expensive to buy, making this a floral gift with some added luxury.
Flower Cultural Significance
The Ancient Greeks recognized two types of hellebore: black and white. White hellebore has later been classified as Veratrum album. Black hellebore was used by both the Greeks and Romans to treat illness, but also as a cure for insanity.
In the myth of Melampus, Melampus was a Greek soothsayer and healer. After the women of Argos were driven to madness by Dionysus, Melampus healed them with a potion made from black hellebore.
The Ancient Phocian town of Antikyra was famous for its black and white hellebore, which was collected to be used in medicine. Hellebore from the city was said to have cured Heracles of madness.
The flower wasn’t only seen as a cure for insanity, but also recognized as a poison. During the Siege of Kirrha, it was added to the wells to poison the water supply.
Theories surrounding the death of Alexander the Great have ranged from malaria to liver disease. Some theorize that he may have been poisoned after drinking from a large cup of wine. Both white and black hellebore have been suggested as a possible cause for the poisoning.
Helleborus niger is more commonly known as the Christmas rose. The legend has it that a young girl in Bethlehem was saddened as she had no gift for the baby Jesus. The girl started crying, and her tears fell into the snow, and sprouted into the hellebore.
During the Middle Ages, the flower came to symbolize the removal of evil. It would be scattered across the house to keep out evil forces.
Witches were also said to use the flower. So, the flower was employed both to call and remove demons. It may also have been an ingredient in the famous “flying ointment”.
This flower can grow to be quite a large flower. Some species can reach up to 48 inches in height. Other types of hellebore are much smaller, and won’t grow more than 12 inches.
Helleborus foetidus is a species of hellebore sometimes known as “stinking hellebore” or “dungwort”. Despite what the name may indicate, stinking hellebore doesn’t have a noticeably bad odor — until you step on it. Crushed stinking hellebore has an incredibly unpleasant smell.
It can be quite a simple and restrained plant, or filled with showy flowers. Some varieties have been cultivated to have more petals, creating an impressive and eye-catching display.
A good addition to a garden, hellebore attracts bees. Hellebore produces a decent amount of nectar, which is why the bees flock to this plant.
Once it has been planted, it hates to be moved. Before planting it, make sure you’ve chosen the best place in your garden for it to grow.
A surprisingly close relation to this flower is the buttercup.
Originating in Europe and Asia, many species of it are found in the Balkan region.
For centuries, hellebore was a frequent ingredient in medicines and treatments. However, it’s no longer used this way. It is often poisonous, and even handling it can cause irritation and damage to the skin.
Digesting large amounts of this flower can be fatal. Because of this, it’s better to steer clear of using it in a medicinal way.
The best way to use hellebore is as decoration. It makes a fantastic ornamental plant, with showy flowers adding life and color to winter gardens.
If you want to bring bees to your yard, hellebore is known for attracting pollinators early. It’s a good source of nectar when other flowers have died back.
It can be cut and made into an arrangement. Out of water, cut hellebore won’t last for very long.
But if you keep the cut hellebore in water, it can stay fresh for several weeks. It does dry quite attractively, making them a good choice for buttonholes and corsages. Keep the cut hellebore in the dark if you want it to maintain color.
What Is The Symbolism Of A Flower Tattoo?
A symbol of tranquility and serenity, a hellebore tattoo can be a way to reflect your peaceful nature. It can also be a reminder to stay calm when things get tough.
It is a hardy plant, which can survive in a variety of conditions. A hellebore tattoo can symbolize staying clear-headed and tranquil in difficult times.
A hellebore is a good tattoo choice for those who feel a connection to the occult, or to magic and witches. Hellebore was used in many spells, including ones for flying and invisibility.
Throwing powdered hellebore into the air was said to render the user invisible! A hellebore tattoo can be a connection to magic. But you may want to use a hellebore tattoo to symbolize the opposite: hellebore was also used to keep the demons away.
Hellebore is a flower with a complex history. At one point thought to be a cure for madness, by the Middle Ages it was seen as a way to keep evil forces from your home.
The hellebore is most often used as a symbol of peace and serenity, but it also has a darker side. Sometimes, hellebore symbolizes anxiety and scandalous behavior.
Despite the dangerous history, the hellebore is a wonderful addition to a winter garden. Attracting bees and other pollinators, the hellebore can add a touch of mystery and elegance.
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