February 6, 2011

An Edgeworthia on the Edge. It's Worth It.


Outside, the world is encased in ice, but in the greenhouse, my sort-of, winter garden, rarely seen tender shrubs from China and South America are starting to bloom. The first of these shrubs to bloom this mid-winter is an Edgeworthia chrysantha 'rubra', an even more unusual strain of an Asian shrub where even the more common species is rare enough.

I first saw Edgeworthia on mid February day, not unlike today, where temperatures rose above freezeing. I was spending a Sunday walking in Tokyo when I was struck by an oddly blooming shrub, with branches all bare and woody, but with small arching branches with tubular waxy fragrant blossoms the color of heirloom chicken eggs, golden yellow and white. I was dumbstruck, for I had never seen this plant before.

Fast forward 8 years to today, in my Massachusetts green house, as I strolled around in the early morning sunlight picking some Camellia's for my fathers 97th birthday party here at the home. I turned the corner, and there was my shrubby Edgwothia growing in a large clay tub, and the dormant buds that look like coins on fuzzy pipe cleaners, tiny buds the colors of Clementine oranges, were beginning to open. 
These two images are shared by a reader, Mike Huben, taken at the Planting Fields Arboretum on Long Island, NY.  If you check the link under my comments section to another readers Flickr page, you can see how confusing the nomenclature is between the two species.  Either way, both species are fine additions to any Zone 7 garden. Edgeworthia are magical while in bloom.

This rarely seen shrub (which is too tender to survive in our New England climate) is kept under glass from December until April, so I choose to grow in in a large tub. In this way, I can bring it into the glass house for the winter after the frost nips the foliage and it drops off. Edgworthia papyrifera has a fascinating history in Asia, where it is still highly treasured in the mountains for China for use in the making of fine papers. As a garden plant in warmer zones like Zone 8-10, it is known as an early-blooming plant that shows it's daphne-like blooms in late February and early March. Under the protection of glass, it will bloom earlier.

This is the first year that I am growing Edgeworthia in a container, after seeing one at the New England Flower show two years ago being grown in a large terra cotta pot, and after seeing a lovely specimen in Tokyo's Ueno Park, where it was blooming in the snow planted in the ground,I knew that I had to get one.. Both of these specimens that I has seen, where the more conventional white forms of Edgeworthia papyrifera. Apparently, there is still some disagreement between taxonomists on whether the species grown in cultivations are E. papyrifera or E. chrysantha, ( one reader makes the argument that the species I have is actually E. papyrifera 'Akebono' because it's branches are so thin and because the peduncles are long rather than short ( who wants short peduncles, anyway!). (The peduncle in case you are wondering is the stem that attaches the blossoms to the branch.

It will be fun to watch these 'coins' of buds open on this species, I will share more photos as well as the entire shrub, so that you can see how the entire shrub looks. I am becoming enamored with many shrubs from warmer zones for culture in my cold greenhouse. The shrubs make winter bearable, for instance, today, with the sunshine today, and the warm moist air under glass, if felt better than any spa treatment.


  1. I have an E. chrysantha and it is possibly my favorite winter shrub. When I first heard there was a red/orange one I fell into plant lust and began looking for it. I found a grower on the West Coast who has them, and in speaking with them, they indicate that it is not nearly as easy to grow as the straight species. I am not deterred.

  2. Matt - This is gorgeous. You mentioned the Chinese use it to make fine papers. What's that process? Thanks for sharing.

  3. I first encountered the common edgewothia on a February trip to England. They are interesting in shape and flower. How I wish I had a greenhouse for some of the winter blooming shrubs that are too tender for here. Enjoy yours, look forward to seeing more photos.

  4. My boss and I have been researching the whole E. chrysantha versus E. papyrifera debate and came across this site:
    They insist that there are two 'Akebono's and from what I can tell there are definite differences between the two species.
    E. chrysantha is kind of short and "fat" with thicker stems and its flowers have short, stocky peduncles. E. papyrifera is taller with slender stems and slightly longer, skinnier peduncles. From your pictures Ihttps://www.blogger.com/captcha?token=AM2hDkDjJyw2zuBFnXYUCTuC0QlvjGN5%2F5XDG%2B09p3SOgzrZW3hOP%2FAOZDoigJwwhUusbOkoo7aETOTVlK%2Ff9QPas0iMqqxsRMvAlGOfp%2FnDsP8crFhUJ1k6ZNax84LdkJZtHrxai2zb would guess that you have the E. papyrifera version of 'Akebono'.
    Lastly, check out the picture I have posted here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/plantfreak2002/5429105840/ Your thoughts?

  5. Hankbates5:25 PM

    I have a 15 year old specimen of E. chrysantha in full bloom here on Cape Cod. It survived (barely, several branches died back) the -8 degree minimum about 10 years ago, now it has crowded out anything which dares to try to grow beneath it. For at least half the year it is our favorite plant. This very mild year it is somewhat ahead of its usual display, but so also is our Prunus mume.


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