Plants that provide winter beauty in the garden are limited and perhaps none deserve more recognition than Edgeworthia chrysantha. In mid-winter, this beautiful deciduous shrub boasts tubular flowers with bright yellow tips clustered together in dense groups to form 1- to 2-inch flower heads. Since these flowers appear overwinter on bare stems, they are striking focal points in the winter garden. Adding to their allure is the flower’s delicious gardenia-like fragrance which wafts many feet across the garden. Edgeworthia thrive in partial shade and prefer moist soil rich in humus. They can be grown in full sun, at least in the maritime Pacific Northwest. We have a specimen growing at Little Prince that seems quite happy in full sun. Its leaves turn yellow in the fall as opposed to plants grown in shade which do not give fall color.
In spring, lanceolate-oblong leaves form that are blue green in color with grey undersides. Edgeworthia are often mistaken for rhododendrons while in leaf. The plant has a nice symmetrical shape. Mature specimens reach 5-6 feet tall and wide. Another noteworthy feature is the paper-like bark. Because of the bark, E. chrysantha has been alternately referred to as E. papyrifera. The Missouri Botanical Garden’s website discusses this confusion, suggesting that the plants are synonymous, and that though both names were submitted for publication in the early 1800s, E. chrysantha was submitted first, and thus chrysantha is the preferred name. Guess it pays to be first in line. To further confuse things, The Plant List suggests that both E. chrysantha and E. papyrifera are synonyms of E. tomentosa. Call it what you like. An Edgeworthia by any other name smells as sweet.
E. chrysantha, (yes, I have chosen a lane) is native to the Himalaya of China and Nepal. Some references include Japan in this list, but reliable sources have the plant being imported into Japan in the late 1500s where it was prized for its bark which is used to make Japanese tissue called mitsumata paper. The genus was named after Irish-born amateur botanist Michael P. Edgeworth and his better-known sister Maria Edgeworth, a prolific 19th century author. There are several notable cultivars of E. chrysantha, my favorite of which is ‘Red Dragon’ with orange-red flowers.
Mark Leichty is the Director of Business Development at Little Prince of Oregon Nursery near Portland. He is a certified plant geek who enjoys visiting beautiful gardens and garden centers searching for rare and unique plants to satisfy his plant lust. email@example.com