A Shrub for All Seasons: Edgeworthia
Edgeworthia chrysantha also known as paper bush is a collector’s plant. That means it is rarely seen in public and private gardens and is hard to find at nurseries. However, I have been able to offer it to my customers in fall 2011 and fall 2012 because my wholesale shrub supplier carries beautiful specimens of it. I have grown it in my own garden for three years so I decided it was time for a full blown profile of what has become one of my favorite shrubs.
[Note:Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA. The only plants that we mail order are snowdrops and miniature hostas.]
My photos of the whole plant do not do justice to how gorgeous it is, but as I reviewed the on-line literature, I realized that everyone has this problem. This edgeworthia is pictured in mid-April on the terrace of the main house at Chanticleer gardens in Wayne, Pennsylvania.
Edgeworthia is native to China and was named for Michael Edgeworth (1812 to 1881), a plant collector for the East India Company. It arrived fairly recently in the US. My 1990 edition of Michael Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants contains no mention of it, and it was not covered in my 1994 Longwood course, Deciduous Flowering Shrubs II. Although articles state that its common name is paper bush, I have never heard anyone who actually grows it call it anything but edgeworthia. In China, its bark is used to produce very high quality paper and for various medicinal purposes. Here it is an unusual and elegant four season ornamental notable for its leaves, buds, flowers, and habit.
Edgeworthia is in the same family as daphne and has even occasionally been called yellow daphne. It is deciduous and has large and distinctive leaves. They are 5 to 6″ long and about 2″ wide, blue-green on the top and silvery green on the bottom. Although they can turn yellow in fall, you wouldn’t grow edgeworthia for fall color. The leaves cluster at the tips of the branches giving the shrub a decidedly lush and tropical appearance that really stands out in the garden. When the leaves drop, they reveal the slender and pliable reddish-brown bark seen above.
Please use your imagination to envision how gorgeous this shrub must be covered with hundreds of the silky silver buds shown in the preceding photo. This edgeworthia is pictured at the very end of January and is in the Isabelle Cosby Courtyard at the Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania.
My favorite season for edgeworthia is winter when the leaves drop to reveal the buds which form in late summer or early fall depending on where you live. Each 1″ plus bud resembles an intricately designed tassel on the corner of an elegant Victorian pillow. The silky hairs glow in the light, and the plant looks like it is covered with hundreds of silver flowers–simply breathtaking. The falling leaves also reveal edgeworthia’s striking architectural habit. It is a multi-stemmed shrub that forms an almost perfectly rounded umbrella shape of cinnamon colored branches.
Blooming begins in our area in early March and can continue through April. Each bud expands to reveal 25 to 35 tubular flowers with a silky silver exterior and a bright yellow interior. That would be ornamental enough but the fragrance is amazing. I can’t describe it—you will just have to find a specimen and experience it for your self.
I am going to give cultural information for edgeworthia with the caveat that I don’t think the plant has been grown long enough for it to be definitive. Most sources say that edgeworthia grows in light to partial shade and requires moist, fertile, well-drained organic soil with supplemental water in summer. I grow mine in an east-facing location with very high shade, but edgeworthias at the Scott Arboretum and Chanticleer are in the sun while Charles Cresson has a relatively old plant in full shade. My edgeworthias have organic soil but are in a dry location. This causes the leaves to go limp when it’s hot but doesn’t seem to harm the plants, time will tell.
Zone information is also variable, and the only thing I can guarantee is that specimens have been growing successfully in the Delaware Valley area of Pennsylvania for some time. If you garden north of here, I suggest you try the plant anyway because we really don’t know how much cold it can take. Planting in a protected location is often recommended, and all the plants I have seen are in protected spots, but I don’t know if this is necessary. Mine are more exposed than other local plants so we will see.
Finally, height and width estimates range all over the place with a consensus probably being 6′ by 6′. However, the Chanticleer specimen in the sun is much lower and tighter while Charles Cresson’s shady specimen is taller and looser. One thing is clear though: you won’t regret adding edgeworthia to your garden.
If you are growing edgeworthia, please leave a comment describing your experience with it, especially if you are from an area north of the Delaware Valley.
Nursery Happenings: Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is done for the fall. Thanks for a great year. See you in spring 2013.
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