Edgeworthia: A Plant Worthy of Its Name

By Gretchen Spencer, Fairfax Master Gardener
One of the many joys of gardening is discovering a new plant — especially one with unusual and intriguing attributes. For me, encountering the paper bush (Edgeworthia chrysantha) was one of those joyful discoveries. I first spotted it last summer on a walk in my neighborhood; its lovely, rounded shape; handsome blue-green leaves; and cinnamon-colored, speckled bark caught my eye, though I didn’t know what it was. The homeowner didn’t know either, having received it as a gift years ago. A plant mystery was born!

edgeworthia in bloom

Edgeworthia in bloom

A few months later, after the leaves had dropped, the bush bore small, drooping, velvety, flower buds. I took a bud home to identify. It sat on my counter for several weeks, keeping its shape and creamy color, but I was unable to solve the mystery. Finally, another curious gardener in the neighborhood queried our community forum, and someone there successfully identified the paper bush. Now I was able to research this unique shrub.

Edgeworthia chrysantha was named for Michael Pakenham Edgeworth (1812-1881), an Irish botanist who served in the Indian Civil Service. While traveling extensively in India, he collected many new plants. A native of China and the Himalayas, edgeworthia is also known as paper bush or rice paper plant there, as its bark was used to make paper. Chrysantha refers to the shrub’s yellow flowers. It is a member of the Thymelaeaceae family and a cousin of Daphne odora, also a sweet-smelling, winter-blooming shrub that p