A Winter Beauty Gets Attention

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I returned to the office to find a couple of eye-catching stems on my desk. The two long beautiful green stems had over 2 dozen small (one inch wide) lemon yellow flowers. The flowers had no fragrance. The note with the stems asked for verification of the plant’s identity.

The plant, Jasminum nudiflorum, commonly called winter jasmine, is classified as both a trailing shrub and a vine. It is a member of the olive family with attractive arching stems. As a shrub, the willowy stems grow in sprawling mounds up to four feet tall. It spreads by trailing branches that root easily in the ground. As a vine it often grows 10 to 15 feet. Small compound, trifoliolate, dark green leaves with ovate leaflets (1 to 1.25 inches long) appear after the flowers.

So is it a shrub or a vine? Gardeners can determine what it becomes by how it is cared for as the plant determines what form it will take. If kept pruned back, it will act as a shrub in the landscape. But if left alone and allowed to grow naturally, it will function as a vine. It will cover the ground or can be made to climb if the branches are tied to a supporting structure.

Winter Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) can often be confused with forsythia and Carolina jessamine. Here are some of the differences to determine which plant you have.

Winter Jasmine produces light yellow flowers with 6 lobes in mid to late winter. Flowers have no fragrance and are produced on squarish, flexible stems that are deep green in color. Leaves come after flowering and are compound, trifoliolate, dark green and 1.25 inches long.

Forsythia has round brittle stems, brown in color and thicker in diameter. Yellow flowers are deeply 4-lobed and can have a slight fragrance. The flower color is considered deeper and flowers are produced in late February through April. Deciduous leaves are opposite, simple and 1 to 4 inches long.

Carolina jessamine, yellow jessamine, or Carolina jasmine is indigenous to every nook and corner of the south. The vine winds its way up tree trunks, around branches and across the ground with very small, flexible stems. The trumpet-shaped canary yellow flowers are 1.5 inches long with 5 rounded lobes. The flowers have a sweet fragrance and are produced in February, March and April depending on the weather. All plant parts are poisonous when eaten, and the nectar kills bees. Glossy evergreen leaves are narrow and 1 to 3 inches long and turn a bronze color in winter.

Winter jasmine is drought tolerant, rejuvenates from severe pruning after flowering, is seldom damaged by deer, and is tolerant of many growing conditions. It will grow in sun to partial shade and in heavy clay and sandy soil. You might want to add it to your garden.