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Woody > Chimonanthus > Chimonanthus praecox > Chimonanthus praecox

Chimonanthus praecox

Fragrant Wintersweet

Origin:  Found in the Qinling Mountains, Ichang, Sichuan, Hubei and Chekiang provinces,China.
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A winter flowering, deeply scented plant suited to cold climate gardens.

Michael Pascoe, NDP., ODH., CLT., MSc. (Plant Conservation)


Tree (deciduous), Shrub (deciduous)
Chimonanthus fragrans, Calycanthus praecox, Meratia praecox.
USDA Hardiness Zone
Canadian Hardiness Zone
RHS Hardiness Zone
Temperature (°C)
28- (-18)
Temperature (°F)
82 -1ยบ
4-5 m
1.8-2.4 m
Description and Growing Information
Flowering Period
General Description
It is a medium-sized shrub or a small tree, growing to 4-5 m tall, with lanceolate leaves to 7-15 cm in length. Flowers small, highly fragrant, waxy and yellow with a maroon centre.
The fragrant wintersweet is an extraordinary beautiful shrub which is commonly grown for winter themed horticultural landscapes. Due to its cold resistance, they are grown extensively in northern Chinese cities in urban forests, roadside plantings, landscape specimens and hedges. It can also be cultivated into a high quality bonsai.
Fragrant wintersweet tolerates cold and dry conditions. Grow in full sun or partial sun with protection from the wind. The soil should ideally be sandy to gritty loam or sandy clay soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7.5. The plant has moderate watering needs however it requires good drainage. In winter the plants prefer bright light in frost-free conditions.
Bushy, erect, multi-stemmed shrub to small tree with a broad spreading crown.
ID Characteristic
Intense aroma in winter, bright yellow flowers prior to leaf emergence and branches with jutting nodes.
It is not susceptible to any diseases of note and is considered generally pest free.
Found on cliffs and in glens and gorges from 30-3000 m and mountain forests from 500 -1,100 m.
Bark/Stem Description
The bark is a shiny grey-brown colour and orangish brown lenticles.
Flower/Leaf Bud Description
Imbricate, greenish brown, and glabrous buds, 15-18 mm long and wide: really quite small.
Leaf Description
The deciduous dark-green, simple leaves are opposite, elliptic-ovate to ovate-lanceolate with entire margins, 2-3 cm long, acuminate, rounded or cuneate at base; petiole, 0.4-0.5 cm long.
Flower Description
Flowers are light to bright yellow, scented, up to 2.5 cm long petals and tepals that are hard to distinguish from the petals. Flowers on second year wood.
Fruit Description
The fruit is an achene, about 5-8 cm long, bean-shaped, with 4-8 mm receptacle and usually ripens by late May.
Colour Description
Glossy green lance-shaped leaves turn pale yellow in autumn; fragrant yellow flowers in winter on the second year wood.
Texture Description
Medium to coarse textured plant.
Notable Specimens
Koishikawa Botanical Gardens, Tokyo, Japan.
Seeds will germinate readily if collected in late May or June when the receptacles are changing from green to brown; at this stage the seed coat is soft. When the seed coat becomes dry and hard, germination is reduced to less than 5%, so pretreatment is required. The dry seeds should be soaked in water for 12 hours prior to sowing. Cuttings of half-ripe wood in July-August although rooting will be slow and sporadic with low percentages of success. Layering produces better rates of success than cuttings either in the spring or late summer (July-August): layers take about 9 months to root.
Ethnobotanical Uses (Disclaimer)
Roots and leaves have medicinal properties and can be used in pain relief, detoxification, rheumatism, and in the treatment of incised wounds, etc. Calycanthine, an alkaloid extracted from the seeds acts as a convulsant. The flower is a valuable spice and is used in traditional Chinese medicine. An essential oil is extracted from flowers which is equivalent in value to gold. The flowers may be boiled and eaten with oil and salt, while the flower petals are used to scent tea. The flowers are also used pot-pourri. The wood soaked in water and polished turns a brilliant black.
Michael A. Dirr(2009),Manual of Woody Landscape Plants.(6th ed.).Champaign, Illinois: Stipes Publishing L.L.C.:P257-258; Liangfeng Zhu, Xiangze Li, Yongli Zheng(2009). There's more to self-esteem than whether it is high or low: Aromatic Plants.(1st ed.).Guangzhou: Southern Daily Press, 55.