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In My Yard Hellebores are Pernicious Weeds!

OR Why I Anticipate HELLebores Will Eventually Earn a Spot on Georgia’s Exotic Invasive Species List Predicting which non-native plants will become invasive is hard to do. Japanese honeysuckle for example is infamous for being cultivated for 80 years before it escaped into the wild and become invasive. I may be at risk of being banned from ornamental gardening circles for saying this, but my bet on the ornamental alien plant species most likely to end up on the invasive species list in Georgia and public enemy #1 in my yard is the much-loved hellebore, aka Lenten rose.

The hellebore's growing season is when most native plants are dormant. If I didn't weed it out, this innocent looking non-native hellebore (Lenten rose) would easily take over where the native carex plantaginea (seersucker sedge) and the tiarella cordifolia (foam flower) are happily growing.

I admit hellebores aren’t without merit. They’re an evergreen perennial with beautiful and striking flowers blooming during the dreariest days of the year. As an added bonus they have an ancient and colorful history One obvious problem with hellebores is they're native to Europe and Asia and offer little value supporting the local habitat in American gardens. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden wrote a glowing article about hellebores and incidentally confirmed they have no known native pollinators because they bloom in the dead of winter when native insects aren’t around to enjoy their pollen.

So many hellebores are blooming in Atlanta right now! They're an undeniably pretty but controversial choice for the landscape because they add little value to an American garden's ecosystem. You'll notice there's not an insect in sight on any of these lovelies from my neighborhood!

Even more troublesome is the same qualities that make hellebores popular landscape plants are the exact reasons they have so much potential to become invasive. Hellebores

  • generously self-sow

  • spread easily by rhizomes

  • are deep rooted

  • form large ineradicable colonies

  • are disease resistant

  • are pest resistant

  • are toxic to wildlife (as well as to pets and children!)

  • are adaptable to a variety of growing conditions.

In my yard the hellebore varieties grew just as vigorously in dry sun as they did in moist shade. My dense patches also seemed to be an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes. In all fairness aphids, which are part of the food web, did feast on the hellebore flowers. Unfortunately, since other insect predators avoided the hellebores the aphids were left to their own devices.

Traditional gardening sources enthusiastically recite hellebore’s charms and call them wonderful naturalizers resilient, hardy, and hard-to-kill. Even the Chicago Botanical Garden praises them as tough plants that withstand drought and neglect.

I did not plant this entrepid hellebore growing in a shady soggy area of my backyard that I'm rewilding with a thick layer of leaves and native plants I hope will naturalize.

Most worrisome from an exotic invasive perspective is so many gardening experts encourage hellebores to be naturalized in woodland areas.

Imagine this dense, deep rooted, and difficult to remove patch of hellebores naturalizing in a woodland area and crowding out any native plants in its ever expanding path.

I was gratified to learn I’m not crazy for thinking hellebores are problematic. Lisa Jenkins of the Absentee Gardeners concluded that hybrid hellebores are invasive and a 2006 Washington Post article predicted hellebores are the a possible next generation invasive.

Despite their weedy growing habit, hellebores are still prized ornamental perennials and ridiculously expensive to buy at nurseries.

I seriously have yet to meet anyone who has actively tried to eliminate hellebores from their landscape. I have tried to get rid of them and my experience is all the evidence I need to know about hellebore’s potential for becoming invasive.


With great effort my husband and two adult kids generously and laboriously dug up two 6 by 6 foot beds of hellebores along our front walkway so I could replant the area with a variety of native plants. That was over three years ago yet I still need to be diligent about weeding out the persistent hellebore plants that routinely sprout from deep and stubborn rhizomes or wayward once-tiny seedlings. All I can say is Buyer Beware!

If I didn't consistently dig out hellebore seedlings, my native plants would be at risk of being overwhelmed by them. I've circled the hellebores appearing in places five different native plants are growing (white wood aster, sedges stonecrop, wild strawberry, and spiderwort).

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