Hardly Strictly Native.

Though I do feel I should be. Strictly native that is. It is so very difficult though not to find myself swooning over a flower, a leaf, or even the twining tendril of some foreign plant to the point where I feel I must have this plant in my garden. My most recent enchanter was Helleborus ‘Penny’s Pink’ (aka Lenten Rose) which I came across at the San Francisco Botanic Garden plant stand.  

Helleborus 'Penny's Pink' flower on flickr

My guilt makes me curious- need I feel so guilty? To be sure, a yardful of natives would certainly provide more “natural” habitat and resources for local fauna. Though one must always use the word natural with consideration, as really, what is natural about my urban backyard in the first place? And what fauna will be provisioned by my backyard habitat? At the very least, I would hope that it could provide some sort of resource for some visitor or resident- be it pollen, nectar, or maybe at the very least a bit of shelter (it could end up just being an additional resource to the slugs in the garden- argh!)

So, a closer examination of my Lenten Rose. Largely of European origin Wikipedia tells me (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hellebore). The colorful parts of the flower are actually not petals, as is typical but modified sepals, while the petals have evolved to form nectaries (also referred to as honey leaves). 

Diagram of floral parts of Helleborus 'Penny's Pink'

My first question is, what pollinates it? A quick search of the web lead me to this site: http://www.helleborus.de/engl/botany.htm, which tells me that Helleborus species aren’t fussy about who pollinates them. Which makes sense considering that as early as these plants flower (early spring- March here in San Francisco, other parts of the U.S. later, the Missouri Botanic Garden states April) that fussiness would be a problem for pollination and seed set as there just aren’t that many pollinators around. Though an online journal article (http://aob.oxfordjournals.org/content/96/5/845.full.pdf) indicates that the genus is primarily pollinated by bees.

So maybe eventually one of our Yellow-Faced bumble bees will eventually find this plant and find the pollen and nectar a lovely additional resource at this early season when there isn’t a whole lot else blooming in the garden. And I’ve yet to hear of Helleborus being invasive, so seed set and distribution I shouldn’t think will be a problem. And perhaps a spider will set up shop under its leaves, and our friendly California Towhee who loves to scratch around looking for bugs will find it a good place to find lurking spiders and yummy insects.

Oh good! Perhaps a not-so-bad addition to our garden! And I get to swoon (with little guilt) over the flowers every spring too…and hopefully someday will witness a pollinator enjoying a drink of nectar from the honey leaves.

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