When I encounter paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha) in late summer, I hear Tom Petty singing his 1981 release of “The Waiting”, where he sings that “waiting is the hardest part.” That’s what gardeners do. Fortunately, I don’t mind waiting for midwinter when the floral display of paperbush competes with the likes of camellias, wintersweet, and witch-hazel.
Paperbush is a deciduous shrub from China with flexible, almost rubbery candelabra-like stems that bear lush, tropical-looking, plumeria-like leaves with silvery-white veins. Perfectly content in a well-drained location that receives afternoon shade, paperbush slowly attains a height and spread of 6 to 8 ft. I find that occasional watering may be necessary during hot, dry summer spells.
My anticipation grows with the arrival of fall when the leaves turn yellow and slip away to expose brown stems punctuated by prominent leaf scars. This unique texture serves as a foil for the plump, silvery flower buds that hang like ornaments from the branches. At first glance it appears as if these “buds” are fully opened flowers, but that’s not true. It’s only an illusion created by the silky-white hairs that enclose the honeycomb-like buds. You have to wait until early February before these flowers open and perfume the cool air with their fragrance.
As these demure, pendant flowers open, each one beckons to be held in your hand. Lift one up and notice the bouquet of florets whose colors range from creamy-white to yellow or a combination of the two.
While I’m smitten by paperbush flowers, I’m equally impressed with their durability. I’ve witnessed paperbush blooms battered by sleet, snow, and ice, and they always deliver a midwinter crescendo of fragrance and beauty.
What are you waiting for? I’m waiting for paperbush.
For more information on paperbush and other winter blooming shrubs, see HGIC 1092, Four Fragrant, Winter Blooming Woodland Shrubs; and Winter Interest In The Landscape.