DAPHNE (Daph’ne). Evergreen and leaf-losing shrubs, many of them of dwarf growth, which bear attractive fragrant flowers. They belong to the Mezereum family, Thymelaeaceae. Many kinds are found wild in Europe and Asia, some of them in Alpine regions, others in low woodlands. Some are perfectly hardy, but others are only suitable for outdoor cultivation in the milder parts of North America. Daphne is commemorative of Daphne, the daughter of the river god of Grecian mythology, who, legend says, was transformed into a Laurel bush.
When to Sow Seed
Propagation varies according to the different kinds. Whenever seeds can be procured they should be used. Seeds of all the hardy kinds may be sown, as soon as ripe, in pots or flats in a compost of equal parts fibrous loam, peat moss and sand. The pots or flats should be plunged in ashes in a cold frame in autumn and placed in a warm greenhouse in February when germination will take place within a few weeks.
Taking Cuttings and Layering
Some kinds, such as the fragrant-flowered D. odora, can be increased by cuttings inserted in a warm and close propagating frame in spring. Several kinds, e.g. D. Blagayana, D. Cneorum, D. retusa, D. pontica and D. Laureola can be raised from layers, and some of the rarer kinds may be grafted on stocks of D. Mezereum or D. Laureola, according to whether they are leaf-losing or evergreen. Grafting should be carried out under glass during spring. Root cuttings may be used to increase D. Genkwa.
Suitable Soil for Daphnes
The stronger-growing Daphnes thrive in deep loamy soil, and dislike hot and dry conditions. Evergreens, such as D. pontica and D. Laureola, thrive in thin woodlands, and D. Mezereum also stands some shade.
Many of the dwarf kinds are seen at their best in the rock garden, but some are difficult to establish. D. Blagayana, a dwarf plant which spreads by means of underground stems, thrives when growing in loamy soil among stones, whereas the pretty pink, popular D. Cneorum, gives the best results in peaty soil.
The Mezereon and Others
D. Mezereum, the Mezereon of European woods, sometimes found naturalized in eastern North America, is one of the earliest-blooming shrubs. Growing 2-3 ft. high, it forms a shapely bush without pruning. The rosy-purple, fragrant flowers are freely produced in late winter or early spring, in advance of the leaves, and they are followed by bright red berries. There is a variety, alba, with white flowers and yellow berries and a variety, grandiflora, that blooms throughout winter in mild climates; it has large, rosy-purple flowers.
Two evergreens, D. pontica and D. Laureola, grow 2-3 ft. high and flower in spring. The flowers are not, however, very attractive.
D. odora is a native of China and Japan; it is hardy in the warmer parts of North America, but in most other places requires the shelter of a frost-proof greenhouse, where it is justly popular by reason of its attractive white, purple-marked flowers which are very fragrant and borne throughout winter and spring. D. Genkwa is a splendid, hardy, Japanese shrub. It grows 2-4 ft. high, and bears fragrant, lilac-colored flowers in early spring in advance of the leaves.
A good hybrid kind is D. Somerset; it is of tidy habit, 5 ft. tall, evergreen where winters are not very severe, and has blush flowers in May and early June.
Good kinds for the rock garden are D. alpina, 6-18 in. high, bearing white, fragrant flowers in May and June, native of the European Alps; D. Blagayana, a widely spreading plant found in the mountains of Eastern Europe, the flowers are creamy white and very fragrant; D. Cneorum, of Central and Eastern Europe, an evergreen 9-12 in. high, with small leaves and flattened heads of fragrant, rosy-pink flowers in May, an exceedingly charming plant; D. hybrida (Dauphinii), a vigorous plant of hybrid origin, D. odora being one parent, has flowers reddish-purple and fragrant; D. retusa, a dwarf bush of dense, erect habit, with evergreen leaves and dense clusters of white, purple-tinted flowers, borne in May, is a native of western China.
There are other kinds that may be grown by those who desire to try a wider selection. These include D. arbuscula, D. collina, D. oleoides, D. petraea (rupestris), D. tangutica, all suitable for the rock garden.
Among those hardy at New York City or further north are D. Genkwa, D. alpina, D. petraea, D. Cneorum, D. Blagayana, and D. Somerset. The others mentioned are less hardy.
The bark of both roots and stems of some kinds of Daphne has medicinal properties. D. Mezereum is one of the chief kinds used.