Although it is a member of the Thymelaeaceae, the family that includes the daphnes, it would be hard to imagine a plant less like a daphne at first glance. However, if you are familiar with the deciduous Daphne genkwa, there is some hint of resemblance there.
The genus comprises three very similar species from China and Japan. It is named after Michael Pakenham Edgeworth (1812-81), a part-time botanist, plant collector and employee of the East India Company.
The plant grown in our gardens and sold in garden centres is commonly labelled E. papyrifera, which is actually a different species. There is some confusion over this, even among botanists. Apparently E. papyrifera has white flowers, not the yellow of E. chrysantha, though some botanists regard them variations of one species.
Edgeworthia chrysantha is a heavily-wooded deciduous shrub. It grows to around 1.2-1.8 m high by 1.5 m wide. Its 12.5-17.5 cm long, pointed oval leaves are soft green with prominent midribs and felted when young.
The foliage is attractive, especially when young, but this is a plant grown for its flowers. They are bright yellow aging to creamy white, tubular and about 1 cm long. Individually they are nothing much, but they are densely packed in 8 cm diameter globose heads. The are very fragrant and open until late winter from buds that have been obvious from late autumn.
The flowers are followed by dry, purplish-green berries known technically as drupes.
This is an often underrated shrub and I’d be the first to admit that it is not always instantly appealing. At first, its rather sparse growth and very heavy branches can seem grotesque. But with time these things tend to be overlooked in favour of the delicate colouring and fragrance of the flowers, and the beauty of the new foliage.
A moist, well-drained, humus-enriched soil with partial shade is best – the sort of conditions you would give your rhododendrons and camellias, or for that matter your daphnes. It is hardy to around -15°C and thrives in a cool temperate climate. Propagate by semi-ripe cuttings, aerial layers or seed.
Try Edgeworthia, it’s not difficult to grow and although bare for much of the year it has its moment of glory when flowering, and definitely has that ‘weird’ appeal that makes it one for the collector.
I am a garden book author and horticultural photographer based in Christchurch, New Zealand. I run a stock photo library called Country, Farm and Garden (http://www.cfgphoto.com). This article may be re-published provided this information is published with it and is clearly visible.