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Edgeworthia Lends Blooms and Fragrance to Winter

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Edgeworthiachrysantha Robert E. Lyons

Robert E. Lyons

Edgeworthia chrysantha, also known as the paperbush plant, provides superb winter interest and fragrance. This well-branched shrub begins blooming in December, when it’s nothing but a bare silhouette in the garden, and continues through the winter. The individual florets are tiny, but a few dozen make up a 1-1/2 to 2-inch cluster that will simply knock you sideways. Like daphnes, you can smell edgeworthia long before you can see it. The fragrance is a bit like gardenia with a slightly spicier element.

Edgeworthia thrives in partial shade and appreciates well-enriched, moist soil. In spring, after the blooms pass, it sports lovely bluish foliage with silvery undertones that are both eye-catching and soothing. In the summer you might mistake it for rhododendron. It has a beautiful shape and form. Grown in the sun, the foliage is still acceptable, though not as lush green as a rhododendron grown in a shaded area. And in autumn – yes, another season of color – the foliage turns rich shades of yellow.

Edgeworthia chrysanthaRobert E. Lyons

Edgeworthia chrysantha
Robert E. Lyons

This shrub grows in zones 7 to 9, and in protected areas of Zone 6. It eventually reaches 7 feet high and wide and makes a nice stand-alone specimen or back-of-the-border choice. Space these plants about 7 feet apart in partial shade and rich, moist soil. You don’t have to worry about missing the scent of the blooms, but you may want to plant edgeworthia within reach of passersby because the foliage invites handling. Be sure to snip a few blooms to keep the house fragrant through the winter.

Edgeworthia is now making its way into retail garden centers but may still be a bit hard to find. At the JC Raulston Arboretum, you can view ‘Gold Rush’ in the Winter Garden and ‘John Bryant’ near the Cascade. Another much more scarce cultivar, ‘Red Dragon’, has characteristic orange-red flowers. Although this form isn’t currently in the JCRA display collections, that’s no reason not to visit!

Donald Breedlove