Why I Love Hellebores

How could any author of mystery or horror not love a flower named by the Greeks as “food to injure”, although the Greeks also administered the plant and seeds to those who suffered from insanity. Especially grateful for this cure was King Argus, whose daughters were prone to running wild on the streets, naked and shrieking.

That such a flower was later named “Christmas rose”—the winter-blooming version—and Lenten rose—a spring bloomer—doesn’t make it any more benign, and any less beautiful. It takes some effort to see its beauty, though. The bell-shaped flowers have a hang-dog posture; shyly their complexities are seen only by the ground. (This is the reason you might see my finger in a couple of the photos, holding up their chins as if they were reluctant children before a camera.) In the garden they offer subtle color—at least in my garden they do, poking up through leaf mold and chronic winter weeds.

Hellebores thrive in the Pacific Northwest. They aren’t fussy and they don’t care if there’s much sun. Not only that, when they bloom in January, that time of year before we begin to notice that the days are getting longer, they soothe our morose hearts. They may not have the gaudy jewelry look of primroses or the pert stature of cyclamen, but they show up anyway in their medieval couture, looking dowdy and proud.

The flower’s exotic markings have earned it a gothic aroma, espcially as witches use it in poisonous potions. While some varietals are black, most petal hues range from bleached celery to speckled mauve. Perhaps its popularity comes from its being one of the garden’s truly black perennials and one of the oldest. At any rate as weapon or potion, it deserves to be admired and described in any murder mystery.

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