Sunday, July 08, 2012

Daphnes - sort of

Last week we looked at some of the evergreen Daphne plants that are grown in New Zealand.  For keen Daphne growers there are a few varieties we did not cover, but they are mainly species that are designed for the specialist shrub growers, those with an interest in growing the unusual or weird.
There are some fake Daphnes that are worth looking at though, plants that have the common name of Daphne but are not too closely related to true Daphnes.  
Firstly, there are the Japanese Daphnes, Edgworthia species, which unlike many of the false Daphnes are actually quite closely related to the true Daphnes.  The most common species is E. papyrifera, the yellow Daphne. It has a scent reminiscent of its more popular cousins, but it is nowhere near as powerful so you will need to get up close to appreciate its fragrance. It is a wonderful shrub for the late winter/early spring period, with handsome deciduous branches, each one tipped with a ball of white buds, about the size of a cricket ball.  As the season progresses and warms, these buds open to show off a glorious bunch of golden flowers. 
If you are really keen you might even make your own paper from this species.  The specific name refers to the fact that the Japanese make high quality art paper from the bark of these plants – they must grow acres of them to do it though, as they do not grow to two metres.
There is a rare evergreen species sometimes seen in specialist nurseries, the pretty E. gardneri.  It is not something I have ever grown but I have admired the small specimen of it in the special scented garden at the Wellington Botanic Garden, and taken a few photographs of it there, thinking that if I saw it on offer, and I had some space in the garden, I would like to try it.
It has waxy golden flowers – more colourful than E. papyrifera, but each flower ball is much smaller – perhaps more the size of a table tennis ball.
Neither of these species is especially hardy – they will cope with our winters but both probably need as warm a spot as you can give them.  They prefer humus-rich soil and like slightly acidic conditions.  Both have lots of nectar and the tuis will soon find them and pay visits to take some kai.

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