Many years ago, while attending a winter gardening symposium at Calloway Gardens in Georgia, I first observed paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha) in full bloom. While exploring the gardens during a break between sessions, I discovered a huge paperbush flowering near the butterfly house. I was amazed by the beauty and fragrance of the flowers and immediately fell in love with the plant.
Paperbush is native to the Himalayan regions of Asia. It gets its common name as the bark fibers have been used for centuries to make high-grade paper. Perhaps you have purchased a journal made in Nepal or Tibet where the paper is made from this beautiful plant. It has also been used for centuries in Japan to make banknotes. I can’t imagine cutting it down to make paper!
It was first introduced to the US in 1902 by David Fairchild, a renowned botanist and head of the USDA Office of Seed and Plant Introductions. The genus name, Edgeworthia was chosen to honor the Irish botanist Michael Pakenham Edgeworth, who worked for the Indian Civil Service in India in the mid-1800s.
This deciduous shrub grows best in part shade to shade in our South Carolina climate. Plant paperbush where it will receive protection from the hot afternoon sun. It will eventually mature at 6 feet tall and wide. Plant it in moist, well-drained, organically rich soil. Be sure to keep it watered during hot, dry summers as paperbush does not tolerate drought. The silky flower buds begin to form in the late summer and burst into bloom during the winter months. The rich yellow tubular flowers are highly fragrant, similar to a gardenia’s scent but with a spicy note. The bright green leaves have silvery undersides and turn yellow in the fall.
No other plant brightens up my garden during the gray months of February like a paperbush in full bloom. The fragrance drifts through the air on warmer days when bees and other pollinating insects frequently venture out to visit the flowers.