D. mezereum

The genus Daphne is made up of over 70 evergreen or deciduous shrubs native to Asia, Europe and north Africa and is a member of the family Thymelaeaceae, a group of plants unfamiliar to most Americans. The shrubs are generally 5′ tall or less and are known for their clusters of white to pink or purple tubular flowers that often appear in spring or early winter in warm climates. The flowers of some Daphne are fragrant. The leaves are usually green, tend to be small (1-4″) , and are usually arranged alternately clustered towards the ends of the stems. The fruit is usually a red to black a fleshy berry, but is not common on cultivated plants. All parts of the plant are poisonous, especially the berries. The genus name, Daphne, honors a nymph of Greek mythology associated with fountains, wells, springs, streams, brooks and other bodies of freshwater.

Daphnes do well in full sun or partial shade and are a good choice for a woodland garden. They like slightly acidic soil and consistent moisture but the soil must be very well-drained. Because they are slow growing and have a naturally attractive shape, they do not need pruning except to remove dead or broken branches. An application of a balance fertilizer like 10-10-10-10 should be applied in late winter to early spring and again about 5 months later. There are several pests and diseases that can damage Daphnes but the most common and fearsome problem is a sudden death for no known reason. Propagation is very difficult because seed may take a long time to germinate and cuttings are slow to root. Grafting is the usual propagation method but takes some skill. Daphnes resent transplanting so should be put in their “forever” site at the first opportunity. Photo Credit: Sten Porse, Wikimedia Commons

Nepalese Paper Plant (Daphne bholua)

Growing at altitudes of 5,5000-12,500′ in the Himalayas and neighboring mountain ranges from Nepal to southern China, D. bholua tends to be evergreen in warm climates and deciduous in colder ones. The plant grows 6-13′ tall and has an upright, open habit. The leathery, medium-green leaves are 2-4″ long, narrowly elliptic or oblong-lanceolate.  In mid-winter, terminal or axillary clusters of 5 to 25 very fragrant white to deep pink flowers open from purple buds. In Nepal, the thin outer bark of the shrub has traditionally been used in paper making, while fiber from the inner bark is used for making rope. D. bholua is a good choice for woodland, fragrance and winter gardens. Photo Credit Wikipedia

Foliage: Evergreen to deciduous

Size: 6-13′ H x 3-5′ W

Bloom Color: Clusters of 5 to 25 very fragrant white to deep pink flowers in mid winter

Bloom Time: Mid-winter

Hardiness: Zones 7-10

Daphne x burkwoodii

This semi evergreen to deciduous shrub is the result of a cross between D. caucasica and D. cneorum. The plant grows 3-4′ tall and wide, and has a dense, rounded habit. The leaves are 1-2″ long, lanceolate to oblanceolate, and dull blue-green. In late spring, 1-2″ wide umbels of pink-tinged buds open to pale pink to white flowers. A rebloom in late summer or early fall is possible. The red berries that follow are attractive but poisonous to mammals. Several desirable cultivars are available,”Carol Mackie’ being the most popular. D. x burkwoodii is a good choice for use as a specimen, in borders and foundation plantings as well as in woodland and fragrance gardens. Photo Credit A. Barra Wikimedia Common

Foliage: Semi-evergreen to deciduous

Height: 3-4′

Bloom Color: Pale pink to white

Bloom Time: Late spring with possible rebloom in late summer or early fall

Hardiness: Zones 4-8

Caucasian Daphne (Daphne caucasica)

Native to the Caucasus, this deciduous shrub grows to 3-4′ tall and wide, and has glaucous stems and alternate leaves that are 1-1.7″ long, green to bluish-green ontop with glaucous undersides. The fragrant white starshaped flowers appear in clusters of 4-20 beginning in late spring and then again in midsummer and fall. Fleshy red or black fruits follow. The long bloom time, and flower fragrance make Caucasian daphne a good choice for borders, beds, patios, and a fragrance garden. Photo Credit Wikipedia

Foliage: Deciduous

Height: 3-4′

Bloom Color: White

Bloom Time: Late spring and mid summer and fall

Hardiness: Zones 5-8

Rose Daphne (Daphne cneorum)

Native to the mountains of central and southern Europe, this evergreen shrub is known for the fragrance of its blooms.  Clusters of small bright pink flowers are produced in April and sometimes sporadically in summer. The plant is 6-8″ tall and has a medium texture with narrow dark green leaves up to one inch long.  Dense and twiggy, the plant forms a low, trailing mass so is especially attractive as a small-scale ground cover or in a rock garden. Sighting it near an outdoor living space or entrance allows its fragrance to be appreciated. Several cultivars are available including dwarf and variegated forms. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Foliage: Evergreen

Height: 6-8″

Bloom Color: Bright pink

Bloom Time: Spring and sometimes sporadically in summer.

Hardiness: Zones 5-7

Lilac Daphne (Daphne genkwa)

This deciduous shrub is native to East Asia, China and Korea where it grows in the margins of paddy fields, hillsides and valleys. It grows 3-4′ tall and has erect, slender, sparsely branched shoots covered with silky hairs when young. The oval to lanceolate leaves are 1-2″ long and are mostly opposite, unlike most Daphnes. The leaves are dull green above, paler below and have silky hairs on both surfaces when young, but only on the veins below with maturity. In late winter to spring before the leaves emerge, clusters of 3-7 tubular flowers appear on sable gray stems. The flowers may be amethyst lilac, rose purple or rarely white, are scentless or very slightly fragrant, and attractive to bees and butterflies. Like other Daphnes, D. genkwa is poisonous but is used in traditional Chinese medicine. The plant is also valued for its unusual flowers and is a good choice for a specimen and garden border as well as for use in woodland, butterfly, pollinator, and winter gardens in warm areas. Photo Credit: 阿橋 HQ, Wikimedia Commons

Foliage: Deciduous

Size: 3-5′

Bloom Color: Amethyst lilac, rose purple or rarely white flowers

Bloom Time: Late winter or spring

Hardiness: Zones 5-8 (seems to need hot summers)

Mezereum (Daphne mezereum)

Also known as February daphne, spurge laurel or spurge olive, this deciduous shrub is native to limestone soils in mixed woodlands of most of Europe and western Asia, north to northern Scandinavia and Russia. It grows up to 5′ tall and has brown woody branching stems that carry gray-green leaves 1-3″ long. Clusters of fragrant pink to light purple flowers appear in early spring before the leaves emerge. D. mezereum is a good choice for use as a specimen and shrub border, as well as in fragrance, winter, woodland, and shade gardens. Photo Credit: H. Zell, Wikimedia Commons

Foliage: Deciduous

Height: 3-5′

Bloom Color: Pink to light purple

Bloom Time: Early spring before the leaves emerge

Hardiness: Zones 4-7; does not tolerate heat and humidity of deep South

Winter Daphne (Daphne odora)

Native to southern China, Vietnam and Taiwan, this broadleaf evergreen shrub grows 4-6′ tall, has a mounding habit, and is densely branched. The shiny leathery dark green leaves are 2-4″ long. In late winter or early spring, rosy-purple to pink flowers appear. The outstanding fragrance of C. odora makes it a great choice for a patio plant or fragrance garden. Its early bloom time recommends it for a winter garden in USDA hardiness Zones 8 and 9. The attractive foliage of winter Daphne makes it useful as a specimen as well as in borders, foundation plantings, and woodland gardens. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Foliage: Evergreen

Height: 3-6′

Bloom Color: Rosy-purple to pink

Bloom Time: Late winter or early spring

Hardiness: Zones 7-9

By Karen