Luculia is a genus with just five species. It is an evergreen shrub or small tree native to the Himalayas in China, Nepal, India and Bhutan. It is a member of the Rubiaceae family which includes gardenia, hamelia and coffee.
Luculia can reach six metres in height in optimum growing conditions which are: dappled shade, mildly acidic soil with lots of organic material, and a regular supply of water. In gardens they are unlikely to reach over three metres.
Like gardenias, they are temperamental and hard to establish, but their perfume in midwinter and their attractive red-tinted foliage make Luculia well worth the effort.
The two most common species available are L. gratissima (from the Latin meaning 'very pleasing', and L. grandiflora which as its name suggests, has bigger flowers.
L. gratissima has large umbels at the ends of the branches packed with fragrant, pink, tubular flowers. L. grandiflora has umbels of large white blooms and glossy leaves 20-35cm long with red veining. The leaves of all the species tend to turn reddish during cold weather.
Although Luculia does best planted in a border, it can also be grown in a large tub.
The roots are shallow and must be kept cool in summer so a thick mulch or layer of pebbles is advisable. They do not like root disturbance and will often not survive being transplanted. Luculias are not resistant to drought or frost.
The flowers form at the ends of new wood so pruning, which is necessary to keep the shrub compact, is best carried out straight after flowering has finished.
Propagation is by seed or by hardwood cuttings.