Contributing to the anticipation of a flowerful spring, the blooms and scent help Edgeworthia chrysantha earn its place in the shade garden. Expanding commercial availability is renewing interest in the merits of paperbush.
Edgeworthia chrysantha is native to China (and likely Japan and Nepal); it grows very well in the Pacific Northwest coastal regions of the United States and British Columbia. Protected from drying northerly winter winds and radiation frosts by surrounding and over-topping broadleaf evergreens, Edgeworthia sometimes survives in Zone 6 gardens.
Strongly scented, 2-inch-wide umbels of white (outside) and yellow (inside) trumpet-shaped flowers expand in February, March or April, before foliage emerges. The flower show resembles a sideways-falling explosion of fireworks on the tips of thickened, papery stems with conspicuous leaf scars. Each small flower is a four-lobed calyx about 5/8-inch long (sometimes close to 1 inch long). The flowers on the outside of the umbel open first, providing a prolonged flowering season, often longer than 60 days. Bees are frequent visitors to fragrant Edgeworthia flowers on warmer days in late winter or early spring.
Name: Edgeworthia chrysantha
Common name: Paperbush or yellow daphne
Hardiness: Zones 7 (6) to 9 in part sun to medium shade
Mature height: 3 to 7 feet
Mature spread: 3 to 7 feet
Classification: Deciduous woody shrub
Landscape use: Great for shade/woodland garden as a companion with broadleaf evergreens, evergreen ground covers, or wildflowers.
Ornamental characteristics: White and yellow-to-orange fragrant flowers in umbels on naked stems in spring; blue-green foliage, interesting stem structure in winter.
After the flower show, paperbush provides 1- to 2-inch-wide and 6- to 10-inch-long blue-green, simple, ovate foliage clustered at the stem tips that provides an excellent tropical-feel accent to the darker green foliage of most shade-loving evergreen plants. Paperbush rarely needs any pruning, but you can prune to shape as it grows.
Fall foliage can be yellow to brownish yellow, but foliage is more likely to fall off stems without coloring. Immediately upon leaf drop, the flower buds are visible on the thickened stem tips, providing an interesting visual texture in the winter.
Edgeworthia do develop a drupe with seed, but these are seldom seen on individually cultivated plants. If seeds are collected, they should be sown immediately with the expectation of germination the following spring – or later.
Edgeworthia have a suckering habit, but they do not spread annoyingly fast. The suckers provide a means of clonal propagation. Rooted suckers divided from mother plants in late winter usually establish easily if watered carefully the first growing season. Plants can also be cloned by taking stem-tip cuttings just as the stem growth flush ends in late-spring or early-summer.
Cousins of Daphne, Edgeworthia are a bit picky about soil conditions. Well-drained, organically rich soil that is kept evenly moist is best. Properly watered slopes or raised beds work well, and only light mulch is needed. Little fertilizer is needed once plants are established. In my gardens in the Pacific Northwest, Edgeworthia have outperformed any species of Daphne with respect to healthy growth, consistent and reliable flowering, and survival. Two-foot-tall plants have been successfully transplanted several times in my gardens using large root balls (minimize root disturbance).
Edgeworthia chrysantha is an outstanding deciduous woody shrub for year-long interest in a shade garden. The scent and timing of bloom create permanent memories of early spring, and provide winter forage for pollinators.