This section is from the book "Handbook Of Hardy Trees, Shrubs, And Herbaceous Plants", by W. Botting Hemsley. Also available from Amazon: Handbook of hardy trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants.
Perennial herbs with thick rhizomes and palmately, digitately or pedately divided leaves on long petioles. Flowers solitary or panicled, rather large, white, greenish, or dull purple. Sepals 5, regular, petaloid, commonly persistent. Petals small, tubular, and inconspicuous. Carpels numerous, sessile or shortly stalked. There are about twelve species, all natives of temperate Europe and Asia. The name is derived from to injure, and Bopa, food, in allusion to the poisonous properties.
1. H. niger (fig. 12). The Christmas Rose. - This is the only species in general cultivation, and is too well known to need description. The beautiful white or pinkish flowers are produced about Christmastide. It is a native of Austria.
2. H. Olympicus, syn. H. orientalis. A very handsome species, with foliage resembling that of H. niger, but appearing with the flowers in early Spring. The latter are large and numerous, and bright rose in the best variety. A native of S. Europe and Asia Minor, and said to bear London smoke well
3. H. viridis. - A dwarfer plant, with digitately 5- to 7-folio-late leaves; leaflets narrow, serrated. In the ordinary form the flowers are green, but there are several varieties differing in the size and colour of the flowers, amongst which we may mention atropurpureus, bearing large purplish red flowers.
Fig. 12. Helleborus niger. (1/4 nat. size.)
There are two or three other species in cultivation : as, H. Colchicus, having large panicles of red flowers in March; H. foetidus, with greenish flowers tinted with dull purple; H. lividus, 2 to 3 feet high, with ternate leaves and bracteate racemes of livid flowers, etc. H. atroriibens is a fine variety of hybrid origin.