Paper bush and daffodils at Gibbs Gardens, Ball Ground, Georgia
Is this the winter of your discontent? Grumpy knows how to make you happy. Plant a paper bush. Not only will you win instant recognition as a gardener to be reckoned with, but you will also enjoy a carefree shrub that brightens winter with months of fragrant blooms.
Native to China, paper bush (Edgeworthia chrysantha) gets its name from its bark, which is used in Asia to make high-quality paper. The first place I ever saw it was many years ago at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia. Back then, it was known as Edgeworthia papyrifera, which I believe to be a totally different species with much smaller flowers than the ones you see here. Plant connoisseurs knew about paper bush, but it didn't grab much attention until nurserymen planting displays for winter garden shows discovered that it was just about the easiest shrub to force into early bloom indoors. Thousands of winter-weary gardeners spied it, dropped their dentures in dismay, and coveted like they've never coveted before. A star was born.
This Bud's For You
Although it's an attractive plant throughout the year, paper bush really starts to shine in late fall. Drooping, rounded flower buds covered with silky, silvery hairs appear on top of naked stems. When sunlight hits the buds, paper bush looks like it's blooming already. The flower buds grow in size and prominence all winter. Then, in late winter, they pop open to reveal pendant clusters of tubular blooms that are white on the outside and tipped with yellow. The sweet fragrance reminds you that paper bush is kin to daphne (but it's much easier to grow). Flowering can last 4 to 6 weeks.
Plain old paper bush
Summer isn't a down time for paper bush. After it finishes blooming, it cloaks itself with very handsome foliage reminiscent of plumeria. Long, narrow, leathery, blue-green leaves up to 10 inches long give the shrub a tropical look. There is no fall color. Paper bush spreads by rhizomes, but isn't invasive, and generally forms a dense, slowly expanding clump of long, pliable stems. Cuttings root easily in moist soil. Depending on the selection, paper bush grows 5 to 8 feet tall and wide. Growth is rapid.
New & Improved!
Ordinary paper bush is cool enough, but of course nurserymen are going to look for new ones that are even showier and more exciting. Plants Delights sells 'Snow Cream,' which boasts large clusters of extremely fragrant, golden-yellow flowers and is supposedly more cold-hardy than regular paper bush (down to 0 degrees). Forest Farm offers 'Akebono' (also sold as 'Red Dragon') that features orange-red flowers and grows slower and more compact than the species. Can a variegated paper bush be in the works? We have variegated versions of everything else.
'Akebono' (photo by Briggs Propagators)
How to Grow
Paper bush is suited to the Middle, Lower, and Coastal South (USDA Zones 7-9), although with protection it might get by the Upper South (USDA Zone 6). Give it light shade and moist, fertile, well-drained soil containing lots of organic matter. It has no serious pests and pruning is seldom needed. Water during summer droughts. In addition to mail-order nurseries, paper bush is also available at better garden centers.