by Eline Lybarger, Staff Writer
The garden can be a place of texture, color, and fragrance. Almost all Daphnes are long-flowering and pungently fragrant; if you like the odor, plant them where your nose goes, or plant them where you only get a whiff in passing.
Depending on the authority reporting, the family Thymelaeaceae has 70 to 95 species of Daphne. First described by Carl Linnaeus in 1753, they have been around for a while. They tend to be small, compact bushes (there is one that can reach five feet) with small, attractive oval leaves that may be thick and leathery or glossy. The smaller the leaf the more sun it requires; larger leaves prefer less bright light with three hours of shade each day.
Though fragrant, the flowers are small, tubular, and usually bunched along the stem. Evergreen plants’ flowers usually are yellow to yellow-green, while deciduous plants’ flowers range from pink to purple. They all bloom from late winter to spring.
The plants are very demanding about their growing environment. To begin with, it is difficult to find plants because they don’t like to be confined to a pot. Also, once planted they don’t like to be moved or disturbed in any way, so plan ahead. You may want to pull the weeds around it instead of hoeing them. Daphne prefers part sun to full sun in well-drained soil. Root disease is the most common ailment, but can be avoided by not over-watering, even in summer. In fact, letting it dry out in the summer will promote more blooms the following spring. All of the US authorities say Daphne need acid soil, while English authorities insist they need alkaline soil. Could the plant have adjusted to different environments? Daphne will tolerate cold weather but doesn’t like freezing weather for long periods.
The most common and easiest to find is the Daphne odora, ‘Aureomarginata.’ It has a variegated-leaf that is hardier than the plain green leaf. The very fragrant flowers open into clusters of lilac-white flowers that are purple on the reverse. However, like many Daphne, it may carry a virus that begins with thinning foliage and fewer flowers and ends with bare stems. If this happens, you can take cuttings from semi-hard wood in the summer and grow replacements. It prefers acid soil, so grows easily in our area.
Known as the Nepalese paper plant, Daphne bholua is reported to have a captivating fragrance and insists on alkaline soil. It is a large shrub that can reach five feet with evergreen leaves and clusters of lilac flowers at the tip of every shoot. They appear in late winter and remain through early spring.
When shopping for Daphne, choose a plant that has been recently potted and immediately remove it from the pot to its permanent home and enjoy the fragrance.
Image by Enrico Blasutto, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Daphne_petraea_ENBLA02.JPG , via Wikimedia Commons