Chimonanthus praecox (Yellow Wintersweet)
Chimonanthus praecox is a vigorous deciduous, bushy medium-sized shrub. Its glossy dark green leaves are lanceolate, up to 20cm long and 10cm broad. Its waxy, hermaphrodite, yellow flowers have purple stained centres, are cup-shaped, pendant, up to 3cm across, with spirally arranged petals, are strongly scented and appear on bare branches. Its brown fruit is an elliptic capsule and up to 2.5cm in length.
Chimonanthus praecox, commonly known as Wintersweet or Japanese Allspice, is native to China.In its native habitat it grows in mountain forests. Chimonanthus praecox is synonymous with Chimonanthus fragrans. It was introduced into European gardens from Japan and was noted in England 1766 when it was grown under glass for the Sixth Earl of Coventry in the conservatory at Croome Court, Worcestershire.
The etymological root of the binomial name Chimonanthus is derived from the Greek xeimwn ‘winter’ and anqos ’flower’. Praecox is derived from the Latin prae meaning ‘before’ and coxi meaning ‘ripening’, i.e. early ripening.
Ecologically, Chimonanthus praecox is attractive to pollinating insects and beetles.
As a general rule we tend not to prune Chimonanthus.
It is so often detrimental to their: flowering reliability, general health and perhaps
most importantly; it prevents them attaining their pleasing, generally
naturally occurring, shape. (I refer to shape as being most important as it
is that attribute which is evident/ noticeable to some degree, every day
of the year. That should be its main contribution to the overall
aesthetical worth / appearance in the landscape. In comparison the leaves
(pleasing in themselves) and flowers are ephemeral and passing, but
nonetheless pretty, very fragrant and immensely worthwhile of course!
Under most circumstances Chimonanthus develop an attractive, fairly open
framework of branches and laterals without training. Then, dead, diseased
or crossing branches would be taken out late Winter/ early Spring
immediately after flowering, this would be indeed the appropriate time to carry
out all or any necessary pruning on Chimonanthus. This could be coupled
with lightly ‘nipping back’ the tips of last years growth if considered
absolutely essential to keep it in check, but…. I personally prefer to
take out entire laterals or branches if ‘thinning’ is required.
Chimonanthus praecox under very favourable conditions will achieve at most
something like 4 metres in height and maybe 3 metres across, but at a slow
to moderate rather than a fast rate of growth. This expected ultimate size
should be borne in mind at planting time when the most appropriate
position is being chosen. Bear in mind not only size, but aspect; they
enjoy fertile reasonably well-drained soil, in some sun and light shade.
Placing them where the fragrance and beauty of the flowers can be
appreciated during the short days of Winter is also important, i.e. next
to a frequently used pathway or door.