Pearl Wilson of Alto said she gets excited this time of year because she knows Edgeworthia is blooming.
Although the plant is a native of China, it is commonly known as the Japanese paper plant or Oriental paper bush. The plant gets its name because the bark is used to make high-quality paper.
Wilson is the president of Faded Footprints of Families and Friends of Lake Russell Wildlife Management Area, a volunteer group that cleans abandoned cemeteries. For the past several years, Wilson ventures to Wolf Creek Baptist Church in Rabun County in March to admire several large plants that have been growing near a “fallen cabin” in the woods behind the church. Wilson said she’s drawn to the plant’s small white and yellow flower and its “heavenly” scent. The fragrance is similar to a gardenia but with more spice.
The plant is considered rare because it’s not a native species, but it isn’t commonly used in gardens.
“They’re underused,” said Michael Wheeler, county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. “I don’t think many people know of it. ... I think it would be more popular, but it’s just not very well known. It’s a really neat plant just for the fact that it’s a late winter bloomer, that’s a neat feature.”
Wheeler said the plants aren’t tolerant of a lot of sun but thrive in lightly shaded, moist soil with plenty of organic matter. The plants work well in gardens along woodlands or shady borders.
This year, Wilson said she is eagerly anticipating the blooming of the plant she transplanted from the church into her own yard.
Wilson said the plants are difficult to transplant but hers seem to be thriving.
The plants can be purchased or propagated by dividing the parent plant in fall or winter. Plants can also be ordered through nurseries and aren’t likely to be sold in big-box stores.
At the suggestion of a fellow gardener, Janelle Whalen planted one of the shrubs in her Gainesville yard about 10 years ago.
A Hall County Master Gardener, Whalen said the plant is “interesting” but not one of her favorites, primarily because it is slow to grow. Her plant is only about 2 feet tall.
Whalen said an influx of exotic plants, like the Edgeworthia, were planted in Georgia gardens around the turn of the last century. She said she thinks the plant will be more attractive to her when it has grown larger and its blooms are more noticeable in a winter landscape.
“It buds all winter, it catches your eye,” Whalen said.