Easily passed by in spring, summer, and fall, Edgeworthia is at its very best come mid-late winter. Right. Now.
Spring through summer, paperbush blends into the landscape. Attractive, green, lance-shaped leaves dress the stems, hiding the unique branch form. Another handsome shrub, but not much more. In fall, deciduous leaves turn a pale yellow and flag downward, in perhaps its most homely period of the year. This is not a specimen grown for fall color. Late fall and early winter brings a bare shrub, thick stems reaching outward, creating a hemispherical to globular form with age, shoot tips each sporting a thick mass of dormant flower buds. Natural ornaments developed in the previous growing season, welcoming the New Year. You may even smell it before seeing it…at first. Each mass of 30-50 small, pendant flowers opens slowly over time from the outside-in, and as the first individual outer flowers open, the fragrance that is emitted may be more noted than the show. Considered a plant with a precocious habit - the leaves developing after flowering - there are no green, leafy distractions when Edgeworthia is at its floral peak. With a sweet smell that travels some distance, the small, initial flowers on this daphne relative may escape notice until a critical mass of them have opened, announcing their presence with bright yellow centers. This is their season. Their time to shine. And it is very worth the wait.
The paperbush is native to China, where it lives in forests and on shrubby slopes. It is cultivated in both China and Japan, and has naturalized in the latter, where it is used to make paper for the printing of bank notes. Edgeworthia is also a traditional medicinal plant in China, the bark and roots of which are used as for pain relief and to reduce inflammation. Modern research may support this traditional usage, with three chemical constituents being isolated that have either one or both of these reported properties when tested under laboratory conditions.
Edgeworthia thrives in moist, well-drained soil and part shade to full sun. Reaching 4 to 6 feet tall by the same in width, this shrub can easily be lightly pruned to maintain shape and size. Best to prune just after flowering as leaves emerge, as pruning later in the season removes developing flower buds for the following year. Paperbush is a wonderful accent or companion plant in groups, and can also be used as an individual, eye-catching specimen. The paperbush is commercially available. Several yellow cultivars and a handsome orange-red-flowered cultivar exists, though the latter is not fragrant.
Come enjoy yet another of our special winter offerings with this eye-catching, aromatic gem. Edgeworthia is not to be missed!
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text and Profile by Corey Barnes and Mona Bourell. Photos by Joanne Taylor.