Mexican Orange Blossom,
or Mexican Mock Orange
As a rule the evergreen shrubs of the Choisya genus, named for Swiss botanist Jacques Denis Choisy (1799-1859), are rather tender in temperate climates, being as they are native of Mexico & the American Southwest.
Even so, the hybrid C. terneta x arizonica 'Aztec Pearl' does well in temperate Zone 8, with just a little shelter from winter winds, & maximized sun (though it tolerates a little shade when grown farther south).
The narrow leaves are glossy green & sweetly pungeant if crushed. The flowers occur in clusters or corymbs & look rather like orange blossoms, & for 'Aztec Pearl' smell pleasingly of almonds.
It is a bit smaller & more compactly leafed than C. ternata per se, & has larger pink buds that open white with pink blush on underside of petals. It blooms mainly in spring (April through June), but usually has a second bloom not so extreme in September & October.
The close-up of the flower was shot in April (2003) with only a few of the pink buds opened, when the rich pinks are most striking. The second photo was snapped in May (2004). The third photo shows the lesser Autumn rebloom
A medium-sized evergreen, it grows to eight feet tall & as wide, though six by six is typical in the Northwest, & ours (in 2003) is a youngster measuring three by three.
Pruning is done in spring; dead or otherwise unappealing branches can be cut entirely off, the rest pruned to shape & to preserve compact habit or to remove frost-damaged ends.
Ours made it through its first mild Northwest winter completely unblemished & did not require pruning. It may never require pruning so often as annually, but even if pruning is overdone, the shrub is quick to recover.
I chose this cultivar for its slender leaves that are quite different from the more round-leafed species within its genus, lending the garden something different by its foliage even when not in bloom.
It's a relatively recent hybrid developed by Peter Moore in southern England at Longstock Park Nursery, & it's a recipient of the signal Award of Garden Merit.
Actually, I initially bought the shrub thinking it would look good as a change of texture among fat-leafed evergreen rhodies, but after I got it home, I fortunately researched it before putting it in the ground. It would not have done well with rhodies which want a small portion of shade & regular watering. Here on Puget Sound Mexican Orange Blossom definitely requires full sun.
So it became an important addition to a roadside sun-garden in a position shared with sun-loving shrubby herbs & sunroses, a tall elkhorn sumac, sweet-scented flowering 'Nanho Blue' butterfly bush & a dark purple-leafed Black Elderberry, forming a veritable mini-forest of low-mainteance plants that require little or no watering.
'Aztec Pearl' does well in our naturally acidic soils. When established it is drought hardy, occasional summer rains being sufficient to sustain it. It required regular summer watering its first year, always careful not to let it steep with wet feet. It strongly dislikes excess watering & will die if soil drains poorly, especially through the winter.
Mexican Orange Blossom has a naturally shallow root system, & if planted too deep will never root properly. So if obtaining a specimen that is rootbound, the roots must be loosened up & spread so that they won't be pointing downward in the soil. When planting it, it is a good idea to knock soil loose from the top of the root system to make sure it wasn't already planted too deep in the pot. Properly planted & properly draining, it will be extremely reliable.
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