The sweet smell that wafts through the air in February and March can be attributed to only a few plants, one of them being Daphne. An old garden favorite, Daphne odora, or Winter Daphne is a plant no yard should be without. While Winter Daphne is justly famous, she has a few sisters you should get to know.
Here are some of our favorites. (click photos to enlarge)
Daphne bhoula, common name Lokta or Paper Daphne – Pale pink extremely fragrant flowers in late winter and long narrow evergreen leaves.
Grows to be very large, 8’ tall in Portland, 30’+ in it’s native Nepal where it is used as a plant for paper production. Likes sun, hardy in zones 7-9. For more on paper production, see Lokta Paper Craft.
Daphne odora, common name Winter or Fragrant Daphne. Pink buds in January open to light pink flowers in February and March. The scent is so thick that on warmer days it can envelop a neighborhood. Leaves are evergreen & leathery. ‘Marginata’ has a slight cream-colored edge to the foliage. ‘Leucantha’ and a new introduction ‘Zuiko Nishiki’ have solid green leaves and are reported to be more upright and vigorous. Both grow to 3-4’ tall and 4-6’ wide. Both are best in shade or at least with shade in the hot afternoon sun. Hardy in zones 7-9
Daphne ‘Lawrence Crocker’ – D. arbuscula x D. collina This little Daphne just gives and gives. Very fragrant, purple/mauve flower clusters bloom from spring thru fall once the plant is established. Leaves are evergreen and narrow, about 2” long. The plant is a nice little shrubby thing growing only to 12”x12”. It is the perfect addition to a rock garden or container. Sun, part shade – zones 6-9
Daphne transatlantica – D. caucasica x D. collina We may have saved the best for last. This is an easy Daphne! Pale pink buds open to white flowers almost year-round and 2” long blue-green leaves are reliably evergreen. In the case of the variety ‘Summer Ice’, leaves have a creamy edge, adding to the frosty look year round. Grows to about 3-4’ tall and wide. Likes sun or part shade, appreciates improved drainage like any Daphne but thrives with a bit of neglect. Hardy in zones 5-9. Photo by Stephanie Mack.
Photos courtesy of Youngblood Nursery with the exception of Daphne transatlantica which was taken by our own Stephanie Mack. .
Genus: Daphne DAFF-NEE
Origin: Native to Europe, North Africa, temperate and subtropical Asia
Characteristics: Small flowers are usually fragrant and come in white, pink, lavender, yellow or chartreuse. Often flowers are produced in small clusters, sometimes grouped in masses along stem tips. Many species are evergreen, a few are deciduous.
Leaves are simple, alternate, dark green to blue-green and sometimes variegated with white or cream. Plants form fleshy fruit that is not edible, but can be decorative in red, orange, yellow or black.
Size: Daphne are shrubs ranging in size from only 8” high to 15’ tall in their native habitats.
Culture: Typically Daphne prefer much better soil drainage than our Portland clay or clay/rock blends provide. Amend planting beds with compost, or plant Daphne in containers for assured success.
Light requirements vary by species, so be sure to check plant tags before deciding on the location. Plants can suffer from over-watering or too much sunshine. Hardiness varies per species.
Diseases: Daphne is primarily bug free in Portland. Problems come in the form of fungus. Root rot, crown rot, leaf-spotting are all fungal issues brought on by poor cultural conditions. Most of these problems can be avoided if drainage issues are addressed when planting.