Spring flowers do their best to stand out against the dark forest floor. They have brilliantly bright colours, a true pleasure for the eye and an eye-catcher for early spring insects. But among them, there is one which is not bright coloured at all. Perhaps because of its unique dark violet-black colour, Helleborus atrorubens is one of the most incredible of all spring flowers!
Just an hour and a half from the place which I call home, the forest is slightly different. It is still a Beech forest, but here, Alpine Barrenwort dominates the forest floor, a plant which seems entirely absent in Notranjska. This plant has a curious distribution because towards the west, close to the Italian border, it reappears in the forest. I didn’t come this far for Barrenworts though, no matter how special they are. I came for the Dark Hellebore, Helleborus atrorubens. If, for a moment, you forget about their colour, you can easily confuse them with the green flowered Helleborus odorus, which they replace in these eastern Slovenian forests. In fact, both species are so closely related that they freely hybridise in places where they grow together.
I start out in lowland forests. It isn’t difficult to find Dark Hellebores here, and they are beautiful plants. However, they aren’t so very dark. Their flowers are green with some dark pigment towards the edge of the flower leaves (technically, these leaves are not petals but modified leaves from the flower stalk, but together they form a structure that is so similar to a flower, that everyone will call them petals, no doubt). In search of the most outstanding ones, I check several populations: Eventually, I decide to go to a place which a good friend showed me last year. This is at a mountaintop, exposed to all sun, wind and cold. There are still patches of snow. But, in between and even popping up through the snow, are the darkest Dark Hellebores, which I love.