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Edgeworthia chrysantha (oriental paperbush)

Oriental paper bush is a beautiful, winter-flowering scented shrub, which has bark valued for making high-quality paper in Japan.

Oriental paper bush white flowers

Edgeworthia chrysantha (Photo: Martyn Rix)

Species information

Scientific name: 

Edgeworthia chrysantha Lindl.

Common name: 

oriental paperbush, mitsumata (Japanese)

Conservation status: 

Not Evaluated according to IUCN Red List criteria.

Habitat: 

Forests, shrubby slopes, dry sandy soil; from coastal areas to stream sides in mountain valleys.

Key Uses: 

Ornamental, high-quality paper, medicinal.

Known hazards: 

None known.

Taxonomy

Subclass: 
Superorder: 
Rosanae
Order: 
Malvales
Family: 
Thymelaeaceae
Genus: Edgeworthia

About this species

This is the commonest of the four species of Edgeworthia and the one most widely cultivated. The scented flowers are borne in tight nodding heads on leafless branches in late winter and early spring. The flowers are usually creamy yellow, but there are also deep yellow and reddish forms.

The stems are remarkably flexible and can be tied in a simple knot without apparent damage. The bark is papery, cinnamon-coloured and used for making high-quality paper - hence the English name, paper bush. The Japanese name, mitsumata, means 'triple-branching' (referring to the unusual branching pattern of this shrub).

Synonym: 

Edgeworthia papyrifera Siebold & Zucc., Edgeworthia tomentosa (Thunb.) Nakai

Genus: 
Edgeworthia

Discover more

Geography and distribution

This species is native to southern and eastern China and was probably introduced to Korea and Japan where it has been cultivated since the late 16th century.

Description

Edgeworthia chrysantha

Overview: Edgeworthia chrysantha is a deciduous shrub up to 1.5 m, with numerous, upright stems exhibiting trichotomous branching (branching in threes), which is unusual in angiosperms (flowering plants).

Flowers: Flowers appear in late winter or early spring in dense, nodding heads that may be pale yellow, deep yellow or reddish-orange. They are sweetly scented, tubular, 13–20 mm long, with silky hairs on the outside and four recurved lobes. There are 8 stamens, in two groups inside the tube, and the style is slender.

Fruits: Fruits are purplish and mostly covered by remains of the flower.

Leaves: Leaves appear after the flowers and are narrowly oblanceolate (lance-shaped with a rounded apex and tapering base), 8–20 cm long, 2.5–5.5 cm wide, with soft silky hairs.

The history behind the name

Edgeworthia is named after Michael Pakenham Edgeworth (1812–1881), who was born in County Longford, Ireland and educated mainly by his half-sister Maria Edgeworth, famous for her novel Castle Rackrent published in 1800. She also wrote Dialogues on Botany for the Use of Young Persons (1819). Michael Edgeworth joined the Bengal Civil Service and collected plants in Aden (Yemen), India and Sri Lanka. He contributed accounts for several families to Joseph Hooker’s Flora of British India. In addition to Edgeworthia, he is remembered by many other species including Primula edgeworthii Pax. Edgeworth’s herbarium collections are held at the Kew and Oxford herbaria.

Uses

Edgeworthia chrysantha

The bark of Edgeworthia chrysantha is used for making high-quality, hand-made paper, including ornamental Japanese wallpaper and calligraphy paper. The use of mitsumata in paper making dates back to the late 16th century. Historically, Japanese bank notes were made from mitsumata and renowned for being the finest quality notes in the world and the most difficult to forge! Mitsumata is still grown in Japan for paper making, but today most Japanese bank notes are made from Manila hemp (Musa textilis – a relative of banana).

In China, the flowers, bark and roots are used in folk medicine. The bark and roots have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties, and the flower buds are used to treat eye diseases.

Edgeworthia chrysantha is widely cultivated in temperate climates as an ornamental shrub.

Cultivation

Edgeworthia chrysantha enjoys moist, well-drained soil in a sheltered, partially shaded position. It can also be grown to good effect against a west- or south-facing wall (as at the Savill Garden, Windsor Great Park, Berkshire) or in a cool greenhouse to produce a delightful fragrance when flowering. It grows best in acid soils, although it will tolerate near-neutral conditions.

This species at Kew

Edgeworthia chrysantha is growing in the borders behind Museum No. 1 at Kew and in the Winter Garden and Specimen Beds at Wakehurst.

Curtis's Botanical Magazine

Curtis's Botanical Magazine (Editor: Martyn Rix) provides an international forum of particular interest to botanists and horticulturists, plant ecologists and those with a special interest in botanical illustration.

Now well over 200 years old, the Magazine is the longest running botanical periodical featuring colour illustrations of plants. Each four-part volume contains 24 plant portraits reproduced from watercolour originals by leading international botanical artists. Detailed but accessible articles combine horticultural and botanical information, history, conservation and economic uses of the plants described.

Published for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew by Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.

Find out more about Curtis's Botanical Magazine

References and credits

Clennett, C., Harvey, Y. & Pearman, G. (2002). Edgeworthia chrysantha. Curtis’s Botanical Magazine 19: 19-27.

Desmond, R. (1994). Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists and Horticulturists. Taylor & Francis, London.

Harvey, Y. (1992). Edgeworthia chrysantha. The Plantsman 14: 128¬132.

Hu Xiao-Jia, Jin Hui-Zi, Xu Wen-Zheng et al. (2008). Anti-inflammatory and analgesic activities of Edgeworthia chrysantha and its effective chemical constituents. Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin 31: 1761-1765.

Iwamoto, A., Matsumara, Y., et al. (2005). Development and structure of trichotomous branching in Edgeworthia chrysantha (Thymelaeaceae). American Journal of Botany 92: 1350-1358.

Ohwi, J. (1984). Edgeworthia. Flora of Japan. Pp. 644-645. Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.

The Plant List (2010). Edgeworthia chrysantha. Available online (accessed 3 October 2011).

Kew Science Editor: Martyn Rix
Kew contributors: Yvette Harvey and Steve Davis
Copyediting: Malin Rivers

Although every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.

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