Helleborus thibetanus (tie kuai zi)
Helleborus thibetanus is a delicate hellebore, separated from its closest relatives in western Eurasia by more than 5,000 km.
About this species
Hellebores, both species and hybrids, have become increasingly popular with gardeners and are greatly loved for their winter and early spring flowers.
Père David, the French plant collector, found Helleborus thibetanus in Moupin (now Baoxing) in Sichuan Province, China in 1869. It was first described by Franchet in 1885. Despite the efforts of other well-known plant collectors, such as Paul Guillaume Farges, William Purdom and Joseph Rock, who all collected specimens of this plant, it was not introduced into cultivation in Britain until 1991. Commercial importation of H. thibetanus began shortly afterwards, and it is now common in British gardens.
Arrival at Kew
Although known to botanists from herbarium material, the first living specimens of Helleborus thibetanus arrived in Britain in 1991, when seeds were sent to Kew by Professor Kao Pao-chung of the Chengdu Institute of Botany, Sichuan, China. Some of these seeds were raised at Kew and produced flowering plants, including the one depicted in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, whereas others were distributed to other botanic gardens.
Geography & Distribution
Helleborus thibetanus is found in central China, (southern Gansu, southern Shaanxi, north-western Hubei and north-western Sichuan), between 1,100–3,700 m elevation.
Helleborus thibetanus is a deciduous perennial up to 20 cm high when in flower and up to 45 cm when in full leaf. Its rhizomes have long, succulent, hairy roots. There are 1 or 2 leaves per shoot, coarsely toothed at the margins. Leaves appear when the flower stems are well-developed and usually die down in the summer. The inflorescences are loosely branched cymes of 2–8 flowers on stout stems. The flowers are white or pale pink with darker purple veining fading to green, 5–6 cm in diameter with a thin papery texture. The flowers appear in March to May in the wild but in January to February in cultivation in Britain. The grey seeds measure 3–4 mm long.
Threats & Conservation
This species may be somewhat threatened in the wild due to over-collecting.
Helleborus thibetanus is grown as an ornamental. Although not introduced into cultivation until 1991, it received both a Preliminary Commendation and a Botanical Certificate from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1997 and has gone from being one of the rarest species of hellebore in cultivation to one of the most common
In southern England Helleborus thibetanus does well in semi-shaded places, although it will not tolerate excessive moisture early in the year. The leaves die down in June or July, after which the plants should be kept cool and shaded until they begin to grow again in early spring. The foot of a north-facing wall is an ideal situation.
This species at Kew
Helleborus thibetanus can be seen in the Davies Alpine House at Kew when in flower.
Alcohol-preserved specimens of Helleborus thibetanus are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers from around the world, by appointment. The details of some of these specimens can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue.
Curtis's Botanical Magazine
Curtis’s Botanical Magazine (Editor: Martyn Rix) provides an international forum of particular interest to botanists and horticulturists, plant ecologists and those with a special interest in botanical illustration.
Now well over two hundred years old, the Magazine is the longest running botanical periodical featuring colour illustrations of plants. Each four-part volume contains 24 plant portraits reproduced from watercolour originals by leading international botanical artists. Detailed but accessible articles combine horticultural and botanical information, history, conservation and economic uses of the plants described.
Published for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew by Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.
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