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a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today


NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.


NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.


New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.


Plant Profiles

Variegated Orixa



This variegated shrub is a member of the citrus family, with foliage that looks a lot like that of variegated orange trees.  But Orixa japonica is hardy as far north as Montreal.  No doubt, one reason for its impressive hardiness is that it drops its leaves for the cold season; true citruses are evergreen. 


The leaves are as bright as those of any hardy variegate, and make this shrub a stand-out in shady gardens.




I have three shrubs of Orixa japonica 'Variegata', which are still young enough to retain their spare and even gawky juvenile habit.  Mature individuals are naturally dense enough to recommend their use as hedges.




Alas, this orange cousin doesn't have showy flowers or typical citrus fruit.  Hardy orange, though, has both—but it doesn't sport these flashy leaves.



Here's how to grow this tough and colorful shrub:

Latin Name

Orixa japonica 'Variegata'

Common Name

Variegated orixa


Rutaceae, the Citrus family.

What kind of plant is it?

Deciduous shrub.


Zones 5 - 7.


Broad and multi-stemmed.  The free-range habit is similar to that of viburnums: wider than tall, and a space-hog in the wrong setting. 

Rate of Growth

Medium to fast.

Size in ten years

Six to eight feet tall, eight feet and more wide.


Open in youth, dense in maturity.

Grown for

its foliage color: The shiny leaves are light green, with sections of gray-green and, around much of the perimeter, of cream.  They can be puckered and irregular.


its foliage fragrance: If crushed or cut, the leaves give off powerful whiffs of curry, citrus, fish sauce, and honey.  To me, the combination is that of Thai food that hasn't been toned down for beginners.  More sensitive noses—of people as well as browsers such as deer—might find the smell objectionable. 


its rarity: This deer-proof, shade-tolerant foliage plant is unaccountably under-used in North American gardens. 

Flowering season

Early Spring, as the new leaves are enlarging. The flowers are profuse but very tiny; they are pale green, so do not supply even a plurality of seasonal interest. Instead, they are a fluffy subsidiary pleasantness. They emit a curious, musky, citrus fragrance similar to that of the crushed foliage.

Color combinations

The pale-green and cream coloring harmonizes with anything, but is so bright and light that plants that bring even more "top notes" are likely to cause you to reach for sunglasses.  Instead, combine with dark shades of green, orange, red, burgundy, or blue.

Partner plants

The energetically-variegated foliage calls out for a backdrop that's as dark as possible.  I've planted my 'Variegata' shrubs in front of a hedge of yew, but unpruned growth would be just as effective.  Orixa leaves are too similar in size and shape to those of larger-leaved, large-scale hollies, such as Ilex opaca or 'Nellie R. Stevens', but the tiny and dark-green leaves of Ilex crenata would be ideal.  Such a backing of taller evergreens also removes the curse of the shrub's bare branches in the cold months.  


Dark colors are just as effective in the foreground, with the Orixa foliage acting like a bright halo.  Someday, I'll plant a dinner-plate clematis near one of my 'Variegata', so a few of its stunning flat flowers can perch on the orixa's twigs.  The single flowers of cultivars such as 'Ken Donson', 'Mrs Yuki', 'Niobe', 'Rhapsody', and 'Romantika' are large in scale but simple in form, with contrastingly bright stamens at the center of richly-hued petals.  On all counts, they'd partner well with the irregularly-shaped and -hued orixa foliage.


Ferns of any sort are another happy neighbor to a variegated orixa.  Their bright green color warms up the shrub's chilly brightness, and their feathery texture counters the shrub's broad and dense habit, as well as its leaves' smooth shape and shiny surface.

Where to use it in your garden

'Variegata' has some of the brightest variegation of any hardy plant, and should only be sited where you want the eye to be drawn.  It's a wide shrub, so if you're not pruning it as a hedge, give it room.  The leaves are irregular in shape, making this showy plant most exciting at a middle distance, not at close-range.


The straight species is grown as a hedge in Japan, and so this cultivar could be, as well. 


Full sun to part shade, in almost any soil.  Growth is faster in soil rich in organic matter, but this shrub is tolerant of anything but dry soils or climates.

How to handle it: The Basics

Plant in Spring or Fall, and provide enough water for the shrub to establish.  Unless your site or climate is unusually dry, the plant is self-reliant when established. 

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

Given that orixa is used as a hedge in Japan, where the climate is mild enough that there are plenty of other options for hedges that take shape quickly and respond well to regular pruning, we can conclude that orixa must make a good hedge, indeed.  Why not try an orixa hedge in North America?  Plant every two feet.  I suspect that two cuts will be needed annually: in early Summer, after the Spring growth has lengthened and again in the Fall, to take the Summer growth back to sharper lines that will hold until the following Spring.

Quirks or special cases

Are the leaves or twigs grown in response to pruning more showy than free-range growth?  Are the leaves larger or more colorful?  Is the bark on the twigs more clearly differentiated from that of mature branches?  Is the rate of growth of the twigs noticeably faster?  I've yet to experiment on one of my 'Variegata' shrubs, although I have three that were planted in a group for quicker overall size.  I'll transplant one of them for use as a "What does it do in response to pruning?" experiment.


If you don't like how the foliage smells, don't even think of growing orixa other than as a free-range specimen.  In my experience, the shrub is unusually free of pests and diseases.


'Pearl Frost' seems identical.  The foliage of 'Aurea' emerges a solid yellow, but fades quickly in warm climates, such as that of the American Southeast; the color is reasonably persistent here in Rhode Island. 


On-line; members of the Rutaceae family cannot be imported, so only US sources are possible.


By cuttings.

Native habitat

Orixa japonica is native to Japan.

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