by Kathy Van Mullekom, a lifelong gardener and gardening writer living in York County, Virginia
When an unexpected warm day arrives in January, I use the gift to walk my yard, looking for signs of life. Exfoliating bark on the crape myrtles and winter-flowering camellias catch my eye, but it’s the Edgeworthia chrysantha in the back corner of the yard that really entices me to walk closer. Edgeworthia, nicknamed “paperbush,” has a split personality, in my viewpoint.
In summer, it looks like a tropical treasure. Its slender leaves are each about five to six inches long and about two inches wide. On top, the leaves are blue-green, while a silver green sheen covers the bottoms. The leaves are clustered at the tips of branches, making it a lovely addition to a dappled-shade or full sun garden.
In fall, the leaves disappear to reveal a reddish-brown bark.
In December, tight bud clusters – hundreds of them -- form at the branch tips.
In January, those buds slowly unfold to reveal creamy yellow centers and the most intoxicating fragrance you can imagine. Eventually, the flowers resemble silky tassels dangling everywhere, creating a breath-taking vision on a cold winter day.
Edgeworthia is a member of the daphne family and far easier to grow than fragrant daphne, which needs perfectly draining soil. Edgeworthia, on the other hand, tolerates difficult dry soil under a tall loblolly pine in my garden. When fallen limbs from the pine break branches off the plant, it sprouts new spring growth that covers the damage.
My paperbush grows about four feet tall and wide, thriving alongside camellias that provide fall, winter and spring color. It’s the darling of any gray winter day.