An evergreen shrub 4 to 6 ft high, with glabrous, round, dark branches. Leaves narrowly oval, 11⁄2 to 31⁄2 in. long, 1⁄2 to 1 in. wide; pointed and tapered about equally at both ends, dark green, quite glabrous on both surfaces. Flowers red-purple, very fragrant, produced densely in a terminal head; each flower 1⁄2 in. long, 5⁄8 in. across; the tube not downy, rich purple; the four lobes paler, spreading, ovate. Flower-stalks very short, hairy.
Native of China, long cultivated in Japan; introduced from the latter country in 1771; hardy in the southern and western counties, but surviving only mild winters near London; ‘Aureo-Marginata’ is, however, hardier than the normal form. In Devon, Cornwall, and Isle of Wight there are beautiful bushes of this daphne in the open air, which begin to flower in midwinter and continue until spring. It is one of the most deliciously fragrant of evergreens.
This species does not need a calcareous soil, and can be increased by layers or cuttings, the latter made of moderately ripened shoots in July.
cv. ‘Alba’. – Flowers white.
cv. ‘Aureo-marginata’. – Flowers reddish purple on the outside, paler (often nearly white) within; leaves faintly margined with yellow. This form, once known erroneously as “D. japonica”, is quite hardy in the R.H.S. Garden at Wisley, Surrey, and worthy of wider cultivation.
cv. ‘Mazelii’. – Of the same size and aspect as the type. The foliage, too, is similar, and the flowers of the same shape, size and fragrance, but instead of being borne exclusively in terminal clusters the flowers are also produced on short-stalked clusters from the leaf-axils along the branches; they are pink outside, whitish within. This daphne is somewhat hardier than D. odora, but requires winter protection near London. It begins to bloom in November and lasts through the winter. Introduced from Japan to France by E.-A. Mazel of Montsauve around 1866 and figured in Garden, 16th Nov. 1878. It is now very rare. (D. mazelii Carr. in Rev. Hort., 1872, p. 392; D. japonica Sieb. ex Hort.)
D. kiusiana Miq. D. odora var. kiusiana (Miq.) Keissler – This Japanese species is closely allied to the Chinese D. odora, but is smaller in all its parts; flowers white, perianth finely downy on the outside.