Baby, It’s Getting Cold Outside

Paperbush: a tropical looking plant for a temperate zone

October 27, 2009

Edgeworthia chrysantha has lush, tropical-looking foliage that turns yellow in autumn before dropping. In winter, shimmery white buds gradually open to reveal wonderfully fragrant, yellow flowers that last for months.

The past few chilly nights in Portland have clearly signaled the changing season. The leaves are turning brilliant and starting to carpet the ground. The ground is damp, our breath is a little frosty, the smell of wood smoke is in the air. My hands got seriously cold the other evening while planting the last of my tulip bulbs.

While planting said tulip bulbs, I noticed innumerable plump clusters of flower buds on one of my favorite shrubs: Edgeworthia chrysantha (paperbush). Paperbush is a robust shrub related to daphne with big, flat leaves that remind me of the tropical Plumeria. The leaves turn clear yellow in fall before dropping. Best of all are the fragrant flowers that appear in late winter – floury-looking white buds open to reveal clusters of soft, buttery yellow blossoms. The flowering continues for months. Between the tropical summer look of the plant and the cheerful and fragrant winter flowers, it’s almost impossible to think of a lovelier plant to light up our gloomy winters.

Catching sight of the Edgeworthia buds reminded me of all the winter-flowering plants in the garden whose buds are set the previous summer and fall: Viburnum farreri (winter Viburnum), Lonicera fragrantissima (winter honeysuckle), Hamamelis sp. (witch hazel), Sarcococca sp. (Himalayan box), Chimonanthus praecox (wintersweet), and more – these plants can be seen forming embryonic flower buds as early as July. It is reassuring to see them grow and to know that there will be flowers and life appearing soon enough, in the very depths of winter.

Speaking of the depths of winter, soon I leave on a five-week journey to warmer climes: first, to Hawai’i – then on to visit family in Australia. Portland Monthly has deemed my horticultural adventures a fit subject to report upon and I will be sharing my observations and garden exploits with you as I go. Stay tuned for scintillating glimpses of tropical plants on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, as well as plant-hunting expeditions and other Antipodal adventures in the Australian bush. I won’t lose track of what’s happening in the garden back home, though. Stay tuned…

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