Daphne is a genus of flowering shrubs consisting of between 70 and 95 different species. Part of the thymelaeceae botanical family, plants grow as either deciduous shrubs or evergreen shrubs.
These plants are native to places like North Africa, Europe, and Asia, though they have become naturalized in temperate regions all over the world. They are grown as ornamental plants in rock gardens and the like, as they are valued for their beautifully fragrant flowers and brightly colored berries.
Before we go any further, there is something that you should know. Daphne shrubs are by no means an easy plant to care for. They are difficult to transplant, and they have often perish without any obvious indication as to why.
We get it, plants shouldn’t really cause anxiety, and daphnes can be frustrating specimens to try to grow! If you’re looking for something a little bit easier to care for, head on over to our list of Gorgeous Flowering Plants from all over the world, where we’ve listed beautiful specimens that quite frankly, thrive off of neglect.
What are Some Daphne Species?
Rose Daphne (Daphne Cneorum)
The rose daphne is also commonly known as a garland flower. This daphne species is native to the mountainous regions of south central Europe. Cneorum, is the latin for “like a small olive bush“.
This variety is a prostrate spreading shrub that only reaches about 8 inches in height. They are grown ornamentally because of their pink flowers or white flowers that are highly fragrant and bloom in the early spring.
Winter Daphne (Daphne Odora)
The winter daphne is a variety that is native to China, Japan, and Korea. The Korean term for this plant is chullihyang, which translates to “the thousand mile scent”. This is in reference to the almost impossibly potent fragrant of the winter daphne flowers.
This variety is an evergreen shrub with beautiful glossy foliage. They bloom with pale pink flowers with a tubular shape, which bring about lovely red berries in the summer season.
Nepalese Paper Plant (Daphne Bholua)
The Nepalese paper plant is a variety of daphne that is native to the highest altitudes of the Himalayas. They are often found growing in pastures and glassy glades.
This plant can be both an evergreen and deciduous thicket that can achieve heights up to 4 metres. They have leathery green leaves with deep pink flowers that have a very powerful scent to them.
Mezereum (Daphne Mezereum)
Also known as mezeron in certain regions, as well as February daphne, spurge laurel, or spurge olive, the mezereum daphne is native to Europe and western Asia at high elevations.
This is a deciduous shrub that achieves heights up to 1.5 metres. They have spirally arranged leaves and early spring flowers that bloom in either pink or light purple.
Spurge Laurel (Daphne Laureola)
Otherwise known as the daphne laurel, the laurel leaved daphne, the olive spurge, the wood laurel, or the copse laurel, the spurge laurel is actually neither spurge, nor, laurel! It is native to many countries in Europe, and its range extends towards Algeria, Morocco, and Azores.
This daphne variety is known for having less fragrant yellow/green flowers that bloom in the very early spring, that are followed by black berries. They usually achieve heats between half and 1.5 metres.
What do Daphne Plants Look Like?
Daphne plants are valued for their very early spring blooms. In certain regions they can even bloom in the late winter and will often persist well into the late summer.
The flower is borne in the form of a terminal head, and it grows at the leaf axil towards the end of the stem. The flower lack petals and is instead comprised of 4 petaloid sepals, which is basically a tube shaped base with free lobes at the apex.
Colors range depending on the species. Most evergreen species will have green flowers, whereas most deciduous species will have pink flowers. Green, yellow, pink, and purple flower blooms are all common.
Once a flower is fertilized, it will bear fruit in the form of a fleshy berry or a leathery drupe. Fruits have one seed, and ripened fruits will range in color from yellow, to bright red, to sometimes black.
The leaf shape will also vary depending on the daphne species. Most leaves are light green in color and have a small oblong shape. The leaf surface will be either smooth or glabrous (hairy). Leaves are usually undivided and are arranged alternately along short stalks. They tend to cluster towards the ends of stems.
Daphne shrubs come in many forms, and can be either upright or prostrate. Heights range from 18 inches from the ground up to a large shrub of 4 metres.
How do you Grow a Daphne Plant?
This is the point in the article that will either deter you forever from attempting to grow your own daphne, or the point where you decide to accept the challenge and potential reward. Be warned, it is not uncommon for a daphne plant to perish without any real indicator as to why. Growing daphne is not for the faint hearted!
The daphne is a slow growing shrub (we’re talking between 7 and 10 years), and some may consider trying to grow one from seed as being folly. Many will purchase a well developed plant from a nursery and attempt transplantation in the late spring, as this method will garner more potential for success.
Daphne roots are quite sensitive, and they do not usually take well to transplanting. It is a delicate balance of maintaining consistently moist soil that is perfectly well drained. Anything from perfect can result in a dying daphne.
Choose a spot in your garden that has partial shade conditions, as they do not appreciate full sun. It’s always a good idea to mix the soil with peat moss, as daphnes love acidic soils and the peat moss will help raise the pH level. Otherwise, you can try out some companion planting with other acid loving plants, like azaleas.
The best advice we can give when it comes to daphnes, is to keep your expectations low. Think of them more as a temporary plant, and that will help soften the blow. Try to pick a place where it can easily be removed if things go sour.
Where are Daphne Plants Native to?
The daphne genus is native to Eurasia, and can be found growing wild in south central Europe, throughout Asia – specifically from Britain towards Japan. There are 2 species that have become naturalized in North America, and another handful that have become naturalized in north Africa as well.
What are the Growing Conditions of a Daphne Plant?
Daphnes are rather specific about their preferred soil type. They perform best in soils that are slightly acidic, but not too acidic. They seem to respond very well to soil that has been blended with peat moss to help raise the pH level.
Another thing to keep in mind is that soil absolutely must remain completely moist, but must also be perfectly well drained. Applying a very thick layer of mulch can help maintain this balance.
Daphnes can also be rather sensitive to water level. Soil must be moist, but it cannot be too moist. Shrubs should be receiving about 1 inch of water per week, either through natural rainfall or irrigation, or a combination of both.
Though most species are tolerant of high humidity levels, they are quite susceptible to fungal leaf spots in this type of conditioning.
The level of sun exposure that a daphne prefers to receive is dependent on the variety. There are some that prefer to exist in full sun conditions, whereas others seem to tolerate partial shade. Some live in open meadows, others live in shaded woodlands. If we’re getting really specific about it, their favorite condition is “dappled shade”.
The daphne plant is rather cold hardy, and it can exist in USDA growing zones 4 through 9. Specifically in zones 4 and 5 where there are more mild climates, plants are semi evergreen, and are more likely to drop their leaves in the winter time.
The literal only aspect of the daphne plant that doesn’t require much maintenance, is pruning! They tend to grow in an attractive and manicured shape all on their own, so only prune stalks that appear as being sickly.
Fertilizer is not required for a healthy daphne, though incorporating a soil correcting fertilizer (depending on the natural pH of the soil) can be helpful for successful transplanting.
If it weren’t already clear, daphnes are very temperamental plants. Remember that they are intolerant to drought, mostly intolerant to full sun or full shade, and intolerant to highly acidic or highly acidic soil. Remember, well drained soil that is moist is the key to a happy plant!
How are Daphne Plants Used?
Many different daphne species are cultivated as ornamental plants, and are incorporated as show stopping shrubs for gardens all over the world.
Smaller daphne shrub species (that are mostly native to high altitude regions) are often used as a rock garden plant, or as an alpine garden plant.
There are daphne species that are sustainably grown and harvested for the purpose of paper production. Both daphne bholua and daphne papyraceae are grown commercially for this reason in Nepal and Bhutan.