Since most camellia japonica varieties do not have much if any fragrance, we grow several fall & winter blooming plants that add a pleasant fragrance when planted among camellias. The most fragrant of all is Daphne Odora which blooms from late January to mid March. Daphne Odora has a variegated leaf or solid green leaf varieties.  Each of these varieties also has a pink and a white blooming cultivar.  Daphnes grow about 3 feet high and 4 feet around and are very drought resistant.


"Daphne odora is a compact, broad leaf evergreen shrub that offers early color and fragrance not available from any other plant. It is a great addition to the shade garden in zones 7-9 and can be used in the shrub border or planted singly or in small groupings. It can also be used in containers and placed near high traffic areas during peak bloom periods. No other plant offers such a wonderful fragrance from January through March. I have 20 Daphne odora in my own garden."

Michael A. Dirr, PhD (Ret.)
Department of Horticulture
University of Georgia


Finicky, persnickety, difficult, magnificent, wonderful, irresistible-all of these qualities have been used to describe the Daphne odora. A native of China, the Daphne has long been grown in Southern gardens, often in close association with camellias. The Daphne odora or winter daphne is an attractive, tightly mounding evergreen shrub with bright green, glossy leaves; some varieties have a pale yellow margin around the leaf. In the South, the daphne will reach a mature height of 3 to 4 feet with a similar spread making it an excellent landscape plant for areas with partial shade.

However, in late winter, the daphne undergoes a magical transformation. Its branches become covered with tightly clustered masses of small pink or white trumpet shaped flowers which emit such a wonderful fragrance, it is simply irresistible. The bloom period begins in late January and extends into early March, lasting approximately 6 weeks. The intensely fragrant flowers of the Daphne odora will perfume a courtyard garden or even an entire house if sprays are cut and brought inside. However difficult the Daphne odora may be to grow, the seductive aroma of the plant in bloom makes all the effort worthwhile.

VARIETIES:(click on below photo for larger image)

The Daphne odora can be divided into two groups. The first group has a solid green leaf and is referred to as Greenleaf Daphne.  The second group has a green leaf with a pale yellow margin along the outside edge of each leaf. This variety is referred to as Aureo-marginata.

Greenleaf PinkGreenleaf WhiteMarginated WhiteMarginated Pink

In addition to these two leaf variations, there are also two distinct flower colors, both of which occur on each of the leaf variations, making a total of four distinct varieties. The blooms will either be white, referred to as alba, or pink, opening to reveal a creamy white throat. We refer to this as simply pink flower.  For the most part, the fragrance and growth characteristics for each of these varieties is the same, however, our observations would indicate that the pink varieties tend to bloom slightly ahead of the white blooming varieties. Also there are some reports of certain Auero-marginata varieties with a more prominent yellow or cream colored leaf margin. While this may be true, we have found that as the plant matures the marginated coloring on the leaves becomes more pronounced; thus the leaves of an older plant may look quite different from the leaves of a younger plant of the same variety.


Daphne odora will grow in zone 7 through upper zone 9. This is an area that roughly extends from Tidewater, Va to eastern Texas and as far south as Gainesville, Fla. In zone 7 where temperatures can occasionally dip into single digits it would be advisable to plant daphnes in a sheltered location such as in front of a south facing wall and away from the wind. Daphnes can tolerate freezing temperatures; however, a severe freeze below 10 degrees F could result in bud loss or defoliation on unprotected plantings. On the other extreme, although daphnes will survive as far south as Orlando, Florida, they don't seem to develop into vigorous plants which could indicate a need for some cold hours.


The Daphne odora has acquired a reputation as a somewhat finicky plant to grow. Sometimes an otherwise healthy looking plant will suddenly droop as if scalded and quickly die; yet daphnes are so highly prized by gardeners that they are determined to grow it no matter how difficult it may be. While daphnes are certainly not as easy to grow as many common landscape plants, we have found that with a little care in planting and the right location in the garden, the Daphne odora will provide years of enjoyment in much of the lower South.

Our experience in growing Daphne odora indicates that the key element for success is in controlling the water. The Daphne odora is highly susceptible to root rot and cannot tolerate poor drainage. They will grow in a wide range of soils and pH as long as it is well drained. When planting daphnes, always plant on a slightly elevated mound where excess water will run away from the roots. If the planting site has a heavy clay soil, then add sand, bark or other soil amendments to insure that excess water will quickly drain away. Alternatives to direct in the ground plantings are raised beds or container boxes, both of which are attractive in courtyard situations.

 Another consideration is shade. The best results are obtained when daphnes are planted in an area of partial shade which receives some morning sun. If possible, avoid planting sites in full sun or sites with extended periods of afternoon sun. Also avoid sites where the sun reflects off walls or sidewalks. Daphnes seem to benefit from a layer of mulch or pine straw to keep the roots cool. Once a daphne is established, do not move it. Daphnes do not tolerate transplanting very well.

Finally, don't pamper daphnes! Once established in the landscape, they are good hardy plants. Don't be afraid to clip sprays from blooming plants. The plant won't be hurt and you can enjoy their exquisite fragrance in your home. Fertilize daphne with a balanced fertilizer, using 1 level tablespoon per foot of height in early spring just after bloom when new growth begins. Water thoroughly when needed but allow the plant to dry out before rewatering. With daphnes, it is better to err on the side of too dry than too wet. Prune any long shoots back to maintain a compact growth habit.


In the landscape, daphnes are not generally troubled by insect or disease pests. Aphids are an occasional problem and there is the possibility of the aphids transmitting a viral infection. Control aphids as needed. Anthracnose can occur on daphnes and a severe infection could result in some defoliation, although this is not likely to occur in limited plantings in the landscape. Sudden plant death for no apparent reason is the one problem most often associated with daphne. We feel that this problem can probably be traced back to poor drainage resulting in root rot. Proper cultural problems should eliminate this problem.