This deciduous shrub is native to East Asia, China and Korea where it grows in the margins of paddy fields, hillsides and valleys. It is a member of the Thymelaeaceae plant family that includes almost 900 species, most of which are unknown to American gardeners. The plant 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. They 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. The fruits that follow are small, white to reddish berries, maturing to black, but not common on cultivated plants. 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 (in some areas) winter gardens. The genus name, Daphne, honors a nymph of Greek mythology associated with fountains, wells, springs, streams, brooks and other bodies of freshwater. The specific epithet, genkwa is a transliteration of the Japanese pronunciation of the plant’s Chinese name.

Type: Flowering deciduous shrub

Outstanding Feature: Flowers

Form: Erect

Growth Rate: Slow

Bloom: Clusters of 5-7 amethyst lilac, rose purple or rarely white flowers in late winter or spring

Size: 3-5′ H x 2-5′ W

Light: Full sun to partial shade

Soil: Average, medium moist, well-drained; needs ample moisture during growing season

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

Care: Plant in a site that where buds will be protected from cold temperatures in winter

Pests and Diseases: Unavailable

Propagation: Root cuttings, seed

Outstanding Selection: ‘Hackenberry Group’ (large flowers)

Comments: Short lived; buds are formed in fall and may not survive the cold in winter

All parts of the plant are poisonous

Photo Credit: 阿橋 HQ, Wikimedia Commons

By Karen