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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Wintersweet Chimonanthus praecox

Any botanic garden worthy of the name needs to have interesting plants in flower in every season - so here’s the beautifully fragrant wintersweet Chimonathus praecox, which began flowering in my Durham garden at Christmas, despite the freezing conditions. The flowers are about 1cm. in diameter and are carried on bare twigs. A small bunch cut and brought indoors will scent a room. This is a very hardy shrub that comes from mountainous regions of China so it’s thoroughly hardy, but as an extra precaution I’ve planted it against a south-facing wall, which has kept the worst of the ice and snow away and encouraged it to flower early. That hasn’t protected it from desperately hungry blue tits, though, that seem to like to peck at its flower buds.

I don’t know when this plant blooms in its native China or what pollinates its flowers, but what is certain is that there are no insects to pollinate it when it flowers here in winter. That’s not a problem though, because after the flowers have been open for a couple of days those five white stamens that you can see in the upper photo close over the stigma of the flower, self-pollinating it. The pictures above and below are of the same flower, but taken 24 hours apart.

Recent research in China has shown that the seeds of this shrub have antifungal and antibacterial properties, which may be of potential economic value.