Basic botany #679098 - Ask Extension


Basic botany #679098

Asked January 13, 2021, 10:05 AM EST

My husband wants to know why hellebores bloom in January. How are the flowers pollinated? I had a couple of pithy answers for him. But then he said I should contact you for a more botanically appropriate answer. LOL! Ria

Howard County Maryland

Expert Response

Hello Ria,

Hellebores are non-native here and in their natural habitat, they tend to receive reliable snow cover most of the winter, which inhibits bloom. In our area, our limited or even sparse snowfall is not enough to keep them from responding to other seasonal cues - long nights, cool temperatures - that result in flowering. Presumably, the pollinators in their home ranges are similarly not foraging until spring or may emerge the same time the blooms do due to the same environmental triggers (say, in a year with less snowfall). In our area, honeybee hives (another non-native) and some bumblebees (which can forage in cooler weather, aided by their thicker fuzz) might visit hellebores blooming during mild spells in winter. As part of the buttercup family, Hellebores may tempt them with similar resources they're used to finding in our native, spring-blooming relatives.

Hellebores can be self-fertile and seem to self-pollinate readily among some strains, so it's possible visits by pollinators are not required for the plants to propagate successfully. Perhaps this is an adaptation for springs which either have too much rain or frost, keeping pollinators grounded.


Mira Talabac Replied January 13, 2021, 1:20 PM EST

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