What is a Christmas Rose? It may be roses given at Christmas or a particular china pattern. It could also refer to a perennial plant called the Christmas Rose or Lenten Rose.
The Christmas and Lenten Roses are Helleborus plants that are said to bloom at Christmas or in the winter. In actuality, they bloom in February or March in our part of the world. Still, they are a joy to see blooming during the gloomy days of winter.
Helleborus plants have dark evergreen, leathery leaves that often stay attractive throughout the winter. If there isn't good snow cover, they can show browning on the edges during winter. However, a simple pruning out of the old leaves will give way to new healthy leaves in the spring.
These plants flower in very early spring with nodding flowers that are three to four inches wide with five separate sepals. The Lenten rose (Helleborus orientatlis) blooms in purple, pink, or cream, while the Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) flowers are white with pink shading. As the name implies, the Christmas Rose blooms earlier than the Lenten rose.
Plants grow 15 to 18 inches tall and do best in partial to full shade in very organic rich soil. Like other cold growing plants, this plant is not very tolerant of high temperatures. It does best in moist, well-drained soils.
Since these flower so early, you need to place them where you'll see them every day. Often times early spring blooming plants will bloom without notice if they are put in an area we do not frequent at that time of the year. You might place them outside a window or along a walkway. Mine is near my outdoor hot tub that we use all winter long.
For an even bigger impact, consider planting hellebores beneath a witch hazel tree that also blooms in winter/early spring. You might also add large clumps of Snowdrop bulbs or other early blooming bulbs. Examples of March blooming perennials include Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis), Bloodroot (Sanguinaria Canadensis) and Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica).
One final note about hellebores is that they are poisonous. In fact, according to the Manual of Herbaceous Ornamental Plants, Helleborus is derived from a Greek word helein that means to injure and hora, which means food. It refers to the bitter tasting leaves and roots which are poisonous when eaten.
More information is found on our University of Illinois Extension Gardening with Perennials website at http://extension.illinois.edu/perennials.