Winter flowering shrubs

I wrote this post a few weeks ago. Since then quite a few plants have begun to flower in the mild weather, so what appears below doesn’t seem quite so noteworthy. At the time of writing there were no other flowers to be seen! Anyway, here we go:

Winter certainly isn’t the peak time of year for flowering but that doesn’t prevent some plants from going ahead and giving it a good go anyway. I have three shrubs in the garden that do just that and I must say I’m rather glad that I do.

Sarcococca hookeriana

If you are not familiar with this, you may be familiar with it’s relative Sarcococca confusa, or Sweet Box. Like the S. confusa it is an evergreen, winter-flowering, scented shrub. It differs most obviously in having much larger leaves and a suckering habit. In fact it’s suckering habit is how I came to have it in the first place – a stray sucker from an established shrub in someone else’s garden. I keep intending to move it as it’s currently a bit hidden and has grown a quite straggly as it vies for space with it’s neighbours.

Chimonanthus praecox

This one’s only just reached flowering age. I bought it as a twig for a few pounds some years ago and it’s finally ready to flower. Due to the lack of space, I’ve trained it against the fence. It has sent out some very long vertical shoots, now that it’s settled in, which I’ve pulled down and tied in almost horizontally. I find this works with quite a few shrubs – taking vigorous vertical shoots and encouraging them to flower and/or fruit by pulling them down to the horizontal; it’s common in fruit tree training. Anyway, it seems to have worked here.

Lonicera x purpusii

I’ve featured this one here a few times before. It seems to flower prolifically regardless of what sort of winter we have and is also the main draw in the garden for insects at this time of year. A warm day unleashes clouds of scent and draws out any pollinators in the local vicinity.

A Few Thoughts

All of the shrubs above share a few common traits, despite not just being from different genera but from different families and orders. This means that their similarities are shared despite being quite separate, evolutionary speaking. I assume that these commonalities are dictated by their flowering in winter. For those of you who are interested, here are those observations:

  • In common with so many other winter flowering shrubs, their flowers are scented. At a time of year when pollinators are few and far between, plants need to be sure their attention can be attracted across potentially big distances. Warm days encourage heady volumes of scent to be released which can spread across surprisingly large areas.
  • The flowers themselves are often white and reduced to their most essential parts; petals are very small if they are there at all. Presumably this is because the pollinators are being attracted olfactorily, not visually, and so the shrubs don’t need to waste resources where they’re not needed.
  • All three shrubs also share a long flowering period. They don’t produce all of their flowers in one single flush; instead they continually open fresh flowers over a period of weeks. Again, this makes sense – it allows more opportunity for pollination during a period of the year when pollinators are not a guarantee.

Just a few thoughts that you may or may not find illuminating!

As I wrote at the beginning of the post, this post is a few weeks old, but all three shrubs are still flowering away and attracting plenty of interest from any invertebrates adventurous enough to be out. I managed to take a few photos of some of these visitors so perhaps I’ll post an appendix to this post later in the week.

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