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Gardening 101: Edgeworthia


Gardening 101: Edgeworthia

April 17, 2023

Paperbush, Edgeworthia chrysantha

In the tentatively lengthening days of late winter, we cherish the rare botanical signs that this, too, shall pass. There is no better sign of hope than buds. In January and February, when frequent freezes snap hard overnight, flower buds that can withstand shivering temperatures without losing their precious promise of flowers, seem magical. If they are scented, all the better. Edgeworthia, a strange-limbed shrub whose form is more suggestive of deserts than of regions where tropical summers are followed by hard winters, is an exceptional choice for gardeners who crave respite after the most barren of months.

Photography by Marie Viljoen.

Above: Edgeworthia, with an evergreen camellia backdrop.

Native to the forested Himalayan regions of southern China and Myanmar, Edgeworthia chrysantha (E. papyrifera is a synonym) is known commonly as paperbush in English. Its inner bark fibers have been used for centuries in Japan to make paper and yarn (apparently with insect-repelling properties). Historically, it was used to make Japanese banknotes, and that tradition is being revived.

Above: Silvery buds in January (in Brooklyn).
Above: Every stage of bud-burst is beautiful.
Above: Their down-turned umbelliferous flowers are scented when open.

Edgeworthia’s smooth bark is interesting in winter, when its strange, deciduous limbs are bare. But the shrub’s enchantment is its cold-season buds: silvery and velvet-soft, they persist for freezing weeks until sumptuous clusters of rich yellow flowers open, borne on naked branches in late winter and early spring. Leaves emerge in late spring, long and eucalyptus-like, holding clear diamond drops of water, when it rains.

Above: Sometimes, more is more. Edgeworthia with winter hazel at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Above: An urban Edgeworthia in Tribeca, New York City.
Above: Take a deep, delicious breath…

Cheat Sheet

  • Plant Edgeworthia where noses can reach its richly scented flowers.
  • If you have the space, use evergreen shrubs as a somber backdrop for its constellation of silver buds and yellow flowers.
  • This is not a small shrub—give Edgeworthia room to spread.
  • Despite the buds’ cold-resistance, do not locate Edgeworthia where it will be blasted by the prevailing winter wind.
Above: Opulent, sumptuous, plush. The glory of Edgeworthia in full bloom.

Keep It Alive

  • Edgeworthia is officially hardy from USDA zones 7 to 10, but zone 6 is a strong contender in our climate-changing times.
  • Edgeworthia grows in full sun, but prefers partial shade in hot summer regions. (If you live in the latter, choose a spot that receives morning sun.)
  • Dry summer climates are not Edgeworthia’s happy place – the shrub prefers humidity and ample moisture.
  • If planting in a container, you will need to root-prune Edgeworthia every couple of years: this is a shrub that likes to spread!

See also:

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