Will Hellebore Be The Next Echinacea?

Helleborus 'Winter Gems Painted'

Until recently, hellebores (Helleborus spp.) have been considered a specialty plant, known mostly to serious gardening enthusiasts. If you were lucky enough to find one at a garden center, they were likely to be fairly expensive.

But due to advances in breeding, hellebores are coming into their own, making the leap into the mainstream perennial world, and they are poised to take it by storm.

“In my opinion, helleborus is the next echinacea, which in its turn was the next heuchera,” says Allan Armitage, professor emeritus at the University of Georgia. “Hellebores are a group of plants that everyone is paying attention to and breeding. I think helleborus is the next biggie.”

There are several species of helleborus, but H. orientalis (Lenten rose) is the main one in production. It has all the qualities that comprise a true perennial staple: shade tolerance, cold hardiness (to Zone 4), beautiful flowers, gorgeous foliage that is evergreen in mild climates, and the pièce de résistance — deer won’t eat it.
The problem has been the difficulty of developing clonal material. Helleborus was propagated by seed, and although strains were developed that according to Armitage, were “kind of red and kind of double,” it was difficult to know what you were going to get. It also took two years to produce a saleable plant.

Just five years ago, that all changed with the first cultivar developed through a tissue culture. “The development of H. ‘Ivory Prince,’ which in my opinion was the breakthrough plant in hellebores, was significant for two reasons,” Armitage says. “Along with being clonal, the flowers stood upright. They weren’t pendulous like all the other hellebores.”

Armitage says this was a pivotal time for helleborus breeders in Europe and the U.S. “The helleborus market is now being determined by these new tissue culture hybrids, with upward, outward-facing flowers, different colors and handsome foliage. They have so far proven to be very, very good garden performers.”

There are 30 different hellebores in the trial gardens at the University of Georgia and another 75 at the university’s horticulture farm. Asked for favorites, Armitage says, “We have some of [Dan] Heims’ stuff — the very best one we have of his is called ‘Tutu,’ which has a lot of orientalis in it, but the flowers are big and upward-facing and quite terrific.” He also has a number of favorites from the Heuger Trading Company in Germany, which developed the hellebore series called the Gold Collection. “This again, in my opinion, is changing helleborus entirely,” Armitage says. “[Heuger] is giving us many colors, from mahogany to some yellows, to doubles — they are quite spectacular flowers. It’s not a detraction of anything anyone else is doing; it’s just the way I think we’re going. Once people see these, that’s what they will be expecting.”

Armitage says the new varieties are being bred for use in the landscape, but another benefit is that they look really good in a container. They flower early in February and can be used as a pot plant. “They have buyer’s appeal — if a customer walks into a garden center early and sees these, they’re going to buy them,” he says.

Tissue culture production will improve the availability of hellebores, which has always been a problem, but it might not lower the price. Even though it shortens production time, tissue culture costs more than seed production, so it might be
a trade-off.

Leave a Reply

3 comments on “Will Hellebore Be The Next Echinacea?

  1. I think you are right about Hellebores. I have several (the older types) in my shade garden, along with Pulmonaria, and it makes for a nice visual in early spring. I look forward to new varieties to add to the garden!

  2. Echinacea has been tissue cultured by several labs in the U.S. and done so well. I have not seen Hellebores that multiply easily in TC. Perhaps there are varieties that are easier to TC that await micropropagation. If so, this would be of interest to those labs producing perennial landscape plants.

  3. I certainly hope Helleborus does not become the next Echinacea. With most of the hybrid Echinacea being especially horribly prone to virus infections, I am having to second think about even selling Echinacea. We have weakened Pulmonaria and Heuchera to make them nearly useless in the long term perennial landscape, let's not do the same with Helleborus. Pretty flowers and foliage are short term — disease & pest resistance and durability are THE desirable traits for the landscape.

More From Varieties...
Dipladenia Sundenia

January 11, 2017

New Tropical and Foliage Plants That Offer Hidden Benefits

Tropical and foliage plants can offer extra paybacks to your customers in terms of health-promoting benefits such as filtering the air, reducing stress, and absorbing noise. Consider these new varieties, hitting the retail market in 2017, for your product mix.

Read More
craspedia-golf-beauty-danziger-feature

January 9, 2017

Growing Tips for Craspedia ‘Golf Beauty’

Laura Robles of Mast Young Plants offers advice on ‘Golf Beauty,’ a novelty plant with can’t-miss yellow flower heads and silver foliage that blooms throughout the summer.

Read More
Bride with wedding orchids.

January 7, 2017

How to Stand Out in the Orchid Market

With the popularity of the Phalaenopsis orchid growing and its saturation in the market, orchid growers are hunting for new ways to stand out from their competitors.

Read More
Latest Stories
Dipladenia Sundenia

January 11, 2017

New Tropical and Foliage Plants That Offer Hidden Benef…

Tropical and foliage plants can offer extra paybacks to your customers in terms of health-promoting benefits such as filtering the air, reducing stress, and absorbing noise. Consider these new varieties, hitting the retail market in 2017, for your product mix.

Read More
craspedia-golf-beauty-danziger-feature

January 9, 2017

Growing Tips for Craspedia ‘Golf Beauty’

Laura Robles of Mast Young Plants offers advice on ‘Golf Beauty,’ a novelty plant with can’t-miss yellow flower heads and silver foliage that blooms throughout the summer.

Read More
Bride with wedding orchids.

January 7, 2017

How to Stand Out in the Orchid Market

With the popularity of the Phalaenopsis orchid growing and its saturation in the market, orchid growers are hunting for new ways to stand out from their competitors.

Read More
California Coast

January 3, 2017

Expect Big Changes for California Spring Trials 2017

California Spring Trials 2017 will be here before you know it. Find out what you can look forward to and get a head start on planning and registering for your trip.

Read More
westerlay-orchids-feature

January 1, 2017

How Westerlay Orchids Solved Its Bacteria Problem

Water-borne bacteria was causing havoc with Westerlay Orchids’ production, so the company took preventative action to ensure the health of its plants.

Read More
nepeta-purple-wave-with-roses

December 30, 2016

Allan Armitage: Plants That Can Bring Success in the Ne…

Are you wondering which plants to grow? Here are some perennials, annuals, and herbs that are gaining popularity.

Read More
Honeybelle combo

December 27, 2016

19 New Combos for Containers Big and Small

Check out 19 combos and mixes new for the retail marketplace in 2017 that offer something for every container type.

Read More
sun-parasol-original-crimson-web

December 20, 2016

Suntory Launches Unrooted Cuttings Program for Sun Para…

While the domestically produced rooting program for the Sun Parasol will continue, growers who would like to purchase unrooted cuttings will have the opportunity for the Sun Parasol Original varieties and Garden Crimson.

Read More
santos flare

December 20, 2016

Ball Horticultural Expands Potted Plant Offerings With …

Ex-Plant, which specializes in potted plants, will become a part of Ball’s PanAmerican Seed division.

Read More

December 16, 2016

Please Take Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 Poinsettia S…

Are plant sales up or down compared to last year? How did Black Friday set the tone for this season? What varieties and sizes were your best sellers? Did you try anything new this year to appeal to younger consumer demographics? We tackle all of these questions and more to help you understand the trends in Greenhouse Grower's 2016 Poinsettia Survey.

Read More

December 13, 2016

Dümmen Orange Shares Trends And Season-Extending Tips A…

As a purveyor of a wide collection of poinsettia and potted plant genetics, Dümmen Orange offered attendees a look at current trends – and a glimpse into the future – at its annual event in Columbus, OH.

Read More
Lollipop Flaming Hot Melon combo

December 13, 2016

21 New Combos For Spring To Fall Color In 2017

With the flood of new varieties and flower colors coming on the market, there is no end to the combinations and mixes available for hanging baskets and containers.

Read More
all-america-selections-new-website-home-page

December 3, 2016

New Mobile Responsive Website From All-America Selectio…

All-America Selections has launched a newly redesigned and revamped mobile-responsive website that includes a more attractive design, enhanced search tools, and easier and simpler navigation.

Read More
Sea Breeze Catharanthus combo

December 2, 2016

Four Mixed Container Trends To Watch

Mixed containers are still one of the best-selling SKUs at retail. Pay attention to these four trends that are making their mark on multi-liner mixes and combination containers.

Read More
kelly-norris

December 2, 2016

Kelly Norris: How The “Me Too” Philosophy Affects Plant…

When you’re selling the exact same thing as everyone else, it’s unrealistic to expect customers to buy only from you.

Read More

November 29, 2016

How Changes In Plant Patent Law Could Affect Your Varie…

There is an ongoing discussion happening among plant genetics companies about the current laws and ethics of plant breeding, and what the future holds for the improved lawful protection of genetics.

Read More
endless-summer

November 29, 2016

Endless Summer Hydrangeas Will Soon Feature New Identit…

Bailey Nurseries, which first introduced the reblooming hydrangea a decade ago, says the new identity will feature a more contemporary look to appeal to current and future gardeners.

Read More
prince-tut-cyperus-grass-feature

November 28, 2016

Growing Tips For ‘Prince Tut’ Cyperus Grass

'Prince Tut’ from Proven Winners’ Graceful Grasses collection is versatile, working well in all container sizes with its columnar habit and dense canopy and filling out well in the landscape.

Read More