Flowers: green and relatively inconspicuous in early spring.
Foliage: Evergreen, alternate, simple, petiolate, oblong, glossy above and glabrous beneath, often with red petioles and midribs
Exposure: Performs best in part shade
Water: Medium. Water well when young
Habit: Round and dense to fifteen high and wide
Uses: Specimen, informal hedge, mixed borders, screen.
Now here’s one to stump the most astute southern plantphile. In the Pineywoods region of Texas, this is a durable large shrub unencumbered by the distraction of flowers, perhaps the ultimate green glob in the landscape. Almost unknown in the trade, this member of the Daphniphyllaceae is one of 15 species evergreen shrubs or trees.
This species is also referred to as the yuzuriha (meaning “deferring leaf ”) because the leaves do not fall in the autumn or winter, instead they stay attached until spring, when they ‘defer’ to new leaves. This trait is also reflected as a human characteristic, that the former generations linger until the new generation is considered ready to take their place. The old timers waiting until they have confidence that the new generation can make it on their own.
This Asian species is hardy to Zone 7 and perhaps 6 in sheltered locations and does need protection from bitter cold, drying winds. While seldom seen, I have long admired this species for its bold look in the garden. Cooling, almost tropical, and a well-grown specimen always creates a favorable response. The species prefers a sunny location in East Texas and east across the South. Further west, the verdict is not in. For our central and west Texas fans, I would suggest part shade, a well-drained loamy soil with plenty of organic matter, and special attention to moisture in the first few years. Water quality requirements are unknown. While the plant performs best in neutral to mildly acid soils, it is reported to be tolerant of higher pH soils. We planted a row in full sun and they’re still with us but we’re quite sad during the drought of 2010 and 2011 when temperatures were consistently over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. So we’re we. Slow from the start, count on a 15’ X 15’ round ball in about fifteen years.
Reported to reach over 40’ in the wild, most cultivated specimens will come in at half that. There’s a closely related cousin, Daphniphyllum humile, a smaller version, that has performed poorly in our garden for some reason or another. More trials are needed. Another note of perhaps some interest, we noticed very late foliage emergence after the winter of 1998-99, a possible indication of lack of chilling. The photo below was taken several years ago near Chapel Hill, NC, in the private garden of Charlie Keith, a professor at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and an adventurous gardener of many years. From a distance, the specimen resembled a giant, green basketball among the pines.
Chief difficulty in propagation has been seed source with many plants failing to fruit (pollination problems). For good set, we recommend planting three to five individuals in close proximity (10’ spacing is fine). We have run several seed sources and find the seed to germinate readily after the fruit, a drupe, has been cleaned. Cutting propagation has been another matter – we aren’t at zero success but close to it and with the variability “out there” in leaf shape, petiole and midrib color, and structure . . . there’s plenty of reason for further trials. Growth in the first few years is slow, but once established, the species is durable and appears to be quite drought resistant.