The Helleborus hybridus (or orientalis) is a very skittish kind of a plant.
There used to be an expression among the debutantes of the 1950′s* – “He is not safe in taxis” they would whisper to each other in the powder rooms of the great West End Hotels. This meant that such and such a deb’s delight**, while doubtless debonair and charming in company was all wandering hands and inappropriate fumbling when in the confined privacy of a taxicab.
The Hellebore is definitely not safe in taxis. It is extraordinarily indiscriminating with its cross pollination with the result that where there is one hellebore there are likely to be many more: and none of them will ever be completely identical to its parent. The only way to ensure genetic purity is to ignore the seed and only go with cuttings or division.
However, if you ignore their shambolic morals there is a lot about the hellebore that should be admired. Gasp at the spotting on the inside of the petals – like an advanced level Rorsach test. Swoon over the pertness of their sepals and marvel at the richness of their colours.
While we are on the subject of debutantes and hellebores, Melampus of Pylos used hellebore to save the daughters of the king of Argos from a madness that caused them to run naked through the city crying and screaming. In exchange for this act of public service (you cannot have naked princesses running around the suburbs: it upsets commerce and scares the livestock) he demanded two thirds of the kingdom. As well as being a seer and a striker of hard bargains, Melampus was also capable of talking to animals: like a toga clad version of Rex Harrison in Doctor Doolittle.
* A debutante, for those readers unfamiliar with the term, is a young lady being launched into society. In the good old days this happened when the landed gentry sent their daughters to London in order to attend various dances and dinners. The purpose of this was for them to find a suitable husband.
How do I know about the goings on if high society? I was, for a short time a gossip columnist whose job was to go to Debutante parties and transmit little bits of information and gentle scuttlebut. This was not, I hasten to add, in the 1950s. The Debutante still existed in the late 1970s although they were not so set on husband hunting and were keener on temporary cavorting. Which, from my point of view, was a very good thing.
** A Deb’s delight is an eligible bloke.