Think of This Beauty as the Perennial Cousin of Daphne

Photo: courtesy of Paul Cappiello

Name: Himalayan stellera (Stellera chamaejasme)

Zones: 4–8

Size: 15 to 18 inches tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil

Native range: Northern China and Tibet

This is a bona fide, completely irrational, lust plant. I know I can’t grow it in my Kentucky garden; it’s too hot here in the summer, there’s not nearly enough snow cover in winter, and there’s not an ounce of scree within miles. But lust is a fickle
and tyrannical beast. Most members of the genus Daphne and its family Thymeleaceae are woody shrubs that are sublimely beautiful and excruciatingly frustrating to grow. The kiss of death is noticing how good your daphne is looking, at which point you can be sure it will be half-dead inside of three days. But the delicate form and fragrance of daphnes—there’s not much that can compare. However, the fact that daphnes are almost impossible to grow makes them all that much more alluring.

Now move that description to a high Tibetan alpine valley, make the plant not woody but herbaceous, and you arrive at a horticultural nirvana that Kurt Cobain never could have imagined. Himalayan stellera has delicate upright stems and late spring to early summer blooms. The flowers can range from a rich pink to an absolutely divine yellow, and then there’s the fragrance. I have only seen this plant twice in person, and only once in bloom. The sample size wasn’t overwhelming, but if one observation counts for anything, this thing should be bottled and sold for half its weight in gold. It’s really that good.

Back to collection

Photo: courtesy of Paul Cappiello

The Expert: Paul Cappiello is executive director  of Yew Dell Botanical Gardens in  Crestwood, Kentucky.

From Fine Gardening #193

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