|Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox).|
Photo by Kathy Julian.
Curator, Culberson Asiatic Arboretum
To be precocious is to develop earlier than might be expected. In the garden this adjective may be used to describe certain plants that come into flower while Mother Nature is still enforcing the chill of mid-winter.
Witchhazels (Hamamelis spp.) are well-known shrubs that often display this tendency. Japanese apricot (Prunus mume), another. A less familiar shrub, but one that is certainly a favorite among those privy to its charms, is Chimonanthus praecox, or wintersweet.
As the scientific name implies, wintersweet is precocious (the Latin praecox meaning early ripening). And as the common name implies, the flowers are sweetly fragrant—in the winter. And fragrant it is! As one person’s comments I read about this species put it, “there is truly nothing like it.” Just delightful.
Wintersweet is native to China and belongs to the plant family Calycanthaceae—the same family that our prized spring flowering native sweetshrub (aka sweet Betsy or Carolina allspice) Calycanthus floridus belongs to. Wintersweet has translucent multi-petaled yellow flowers, about an inch or so in diameter when fully opened, produced in great abundance. Typically the flowers remain unscathed through some pretty cold temperatures.
Winter flowering shrubs are often intensely fragrant, presumed so because of the scarcity of pollinators during the cold. Perhaps humans are displacing hibernating insects as the primary pollinator of wintersweet as we greedily bury our noses deep into flower after flower, savoring its most glorious scent.
We'll have wintersweet and more at our Fall Plant Sale on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, from 8 a.m. to noon. Hope to see you here!
This plant highlight originally appeared in Duke Gardens' Flora magazine.
Fall Plant Sale details:
Date: Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017
Time: 8 a.m.-noon
Membership benefit: Duke Gardens members get 10% off! Join online or on site.
Pets not permitted
Wagons + boxes: Our supply is limited; please bring your own if possible, and you'll have more time to spend gathering beautiful plants.
Please see our event page for more information, and we'd love for you to spread the word on Facebook. Thank you!