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Garden Talk

lilac daphne

Horticultural Highlight: Lilac daphne

In this series, the staff of Duke Gardens highlights plants you’ll find within our 55-acre living collection. This week Doris Duke Center Gardens curator Jason Holmes features one of the best daphnes for our area.

Jason Holmes

Botanical name: Daphne genkwa
Common name: Lilac daphne
Family name: Thymelaeaceae (Mezereum Family)
Native range: China to Korea
Locations in Duke Gardens: Welch Spring Woodland Garden, Culberson Asiatic Arboretum
Site requirements: Dappled deciduous shade. Grows best in well drained, cultivated soils.
USDA Hardiness Zones: 5-7


Many people know the genus Daphne to be a prized yet sometimes troubling group of plants. There is one for our area that is the exception: Daphne genkwa

During the first weeks of April—or even earlier with warm weather—the little known lilac daphne attracts the eye of anyone who sees it. This deciduous daphne grows to about 4 feet high and wide, and bears a profusion of lilac-lavender colored blooms in clusters along the stems when in flower. 

Unfortunately, this species lacks the intense fragrance that daphnes are known for. That is OK for me—I will take these flowers any day! As a bonus, lilac daphne is not as prone to the dreaded “Daphne Death” like many others we try to grow in this region. 

When grown in a good woodland site with moderate moisture and dappled shade, Daphne genkwa can thrive and be a real conversation piece for the garden.

More Garden Talk highlights

Photos by Jason Holmes.

Lilac daphne