3rd February 2020
One of the loveliest winter flowering shrubs for bees has to be Daphne bholua 'Jacqueline Postill'. The pretty pink flowers produce a truly captivating, intense fragrance - no wonder the bees can't resist it! When my husband and I caught a whiff of the gorgeous scent wafting by on a cool winter breeze, we too were eager to locate the source of the heavenly perfume.
The flowers of Daphne bholua provide a helpful source of nectar and pollen for early-emerging queen bumble bees needing to feed after waking from their winter snooze, and foraging worker honey bees collecting food for their hungry colonies.
In Nepal in the eastern Himalayas where it originates, Daphne bholua forms an upright evergreen shrub, but in other climates it is deciduous. The RHS regard it as deciduous shrub, losing its leaves in autumn, with fresh foliage appearing early the following year.
The name of this shrub is commonly shortened to 'Daphne', but it is also known as the 'Nepalese paper plant'. According to some sources of information, it flowers in March. However, the photographs on this page were taken in the middle of January 2020, at a temperature of 8°C (46°F), and in February the year before. This experience confirms the RHS view of flowering period. The flowers are followed by dark purple-black berries.
Given that this shrub flowers so early, it may surprise some people to learn that pollinators are around to visit them.
However, as you can see from the photographs, the flowers on this shrub had tempted not only foraging workers from a colony of wild honey bees, but also bumble bees and even comma butterflies, despite the chilly temperature on cold January and February days. You can read more about this here.
Daphne is reputedly difficult to propagate and slow growing, yet well worth the wait. The shrubs can be purchased as established pot plants to add to a sunny, sheltered spot in the garden. They'll thrive best in moderately fertile, well-drained, humus-rich soil.
Ideally, I think it's best to place it in a location where you may benefit not only from the visual display, but also the fragrance, so perhaps close to a path or seating area. Once you have identified the perfect spot for this shrub, you'll need to leave it there, because this shrub does not like the disturbance of being moved.
Though slow-growing, it could eventually reach about 4m in height, and has a spread of up to 1.5m. It should only be pruned when necessary.
A few words of caution: Daphne bholua 'Jacqueline Postill' may be attractive to bees, but they are toxic to humans, livestock and pets. The sap is also a skin irritant, and so it's best to wear gloves when handling and avoid contact with the eyes.
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