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White Forsythia Provides Early Bloom and Amazing Fragrance

Virtues: White forsythia (Abeliophyllum distichum) has a short season of interest, but its unobtrusive size and shape help it ear a spot in the garden anyway. This small shrub produces a heavy flush of pretty, heavily fragrant white flowers in early spring, then gives over the spotlight to whatever companions you choose it site near it.

Common name: White forsythia, Korean abelialeaf

Botanical name: Abeliophyllum distichum


Exposure: Full sun to part shade

Season of interest: Early spring, for fragrant flowers

Flowers: The flowers line the shrub's stems in clusters, with a bell-like shape to each. They resemble the blossoms of true forsythia in shape, profusion and arrangement on the stems, giving rise to this plant's common name of white forsythia. The two species are not related, however, and white forsythia blooms just a bit earlier. White forsythia's flowers are very fragrant. Branches can be cut and forced into an early bloom indoors similar to true forsythia's.

Foliage: The leaves appear after the bloom, growing to about 3-inch ovals. They remain green for the summer and their fall color is not remarkable.

Habit: White forsythia is a deciduous shrubs that grows quickly to a height of 3 to 5 feet. It has arching stems that give it a similar width. 

Origin: Hillsides of central Korea

How to grow it: Site white forsythia in full sun for the heaviest bloom, though it can also take part shade and will still flower there. Planting it in front of a dark background—such as a row of evergreen shrubs or a dark fence—will highlight its white flowers when they open in early spring. Prune this shrub every few years to shape it by removing the oldest stems. The entire shrub can be cut to the ground to rejuvenate it and restore its compact, arching habit. Any pruning should be done immediately after it blooms. White forsythia will not withstand drought and should be provided supplemental water in dry spells. USDA Zones 5–8.

Image credit: By Dominicus Johannes Bergsma - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0