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A deciduous shrub of shapely form about 2 ft high. Leaves 2 to 3 in. long, oblong-ovate, blunt or pointed, dark green, of rather soft texture. Flowers pure white, borne in terminal clusters of six to fifteen, covered with appressed down, very fragrant; perianth-lobes oblong-ovate, pointed.
Native of S.W. Russia, described and named in 1847 and introduced to cultivation at Moscow in 1895, but not to England before 1939, in which year T. Hay, then of Hyde Park, obtained a pot-grown plant from Moscow which flowered with him in March 1940 under glass protection but was destroyed shortly after in an air-raid. In his article on this plant (Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 65, p. 150) he described it as a ‘lovely species’. Mr Eliot Hodgkin tells us (1971) that he has young plants of this species from Russia, which have flowered but so far do not justify Tom Hay’s eulogy.
Daphne sophia is closely allied to D. altaica, though now separated from it by some two thousand miles of steppe and desert. Both species, and D. caucasica, probably derive from an ancestral stock of more continuous distribution that became fragmented during the Ice Age. D. sophia is also of note as one of an interesting contingent of plants found on limestone hills at the south-eastern end of the mid-Russian Plateau, in the region where the provinces of Voronezh, Kursk and Belgorod adjoin. They are believed to be relics of the late Tertiary, having persisted in situ throughout the Ice Age. Another member of this flora is a race of Pinus sylvestris to which Kalenichenko gave specific status as P. cretacea. The daphne grows in the now decimated stands of this pine and also in light oak woodland; it is intolerant of dense shade. See also D.julia (mentioned under D. cneorum).