1. Family: Ranunculaceae Juss.
    1. Genus: Helleborus Tourn. ex L.
      1. Helleborus thibetanus Franch.

        Hellebores, both species and hybrids, have become increasingly popular with gardeners and are greatly loved for their winter and early spring flowers.

    [KSP]

    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description
    Helleborus thibetanus is a delicate hellebore, separated from its closest relatives in western Eurasia by more than 5,000 km.

    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.

    Species Profile
    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 and 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.

    Description

    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 and conservation

    This species may be somewhat threatened in the wild due to over-collecting.

    Uses

    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.

    Cultivation

    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.

    Distribution
    China
    Ecology
    Damp, shady woods.
    Conservation
    Not evaluated according to IUCN Red List criteria.
    Hazards

    None known.

    Images

    Distribution

    Found In:

    China North-Central, China South-Central

    Common Names

    English
    Tie kuai zi

    Helleborus thibetanus Franch. appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Identified Reference Herbarium Specimen Type Status
    Paochung, K., China South-Central 77475.000

    First published in Nouv. Arch. Mus. Hist. Nat., sér. 2, 8: 196 (1885 publ. 1886)

    Literature

    • [1] The Plant List (2010). Helleborus thibetanus. (Accessed 18 September 2011).
    • [2] Hall, T. & Mathew, B. (1998). Helleborus thibetanus. Curtis’s Botanical Magazine 15: 242-248.

    Sources

    Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2017). Published on the internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp
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