An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

August 13, 2008

Abelia chinensis - Butterfly Magnet

Each year now for the past ten, it seems like more new Abelia culitvars are put on the market. It is becoming increasingly hard for me to distinguish the difference between all of the choices. I have been impressed with one new offering, 'Kaleidoscope' (Abelia x grandiflora 'Kaleidoscope'), since I first saw it, and I especially like how it looks in the winter. The original plant was developed at Panoramic Farm in North Carolina, but now every wholesale nursery is clamoring for it. One of my childhood plant memories is of old-fashioned Glossy Ablelia (Abelia x grandiflora) which as kids we called the Bumblebee Plant which is also what we called Hibiscus syriacus (the curse of common names). Both would be covered in black and yellow buzzers in summer, and it was great fun to push each other into the plants. Alas, the bees were always too busy with their work to let boy's pranks get in the way.

One of the parents of Glossy Abelia is Abelia chinensis or Chinese Abelia, and it gets very few bumble bees. It is always too covered with butterflies to leave any room for other insects. We started carrying Chinese Abelia about 10 years ago, and it is one of those plants that will sit in the nursery for months unnoticed by customers. However, when it starts blooming it sells well and usually to people who had not come in looking for it. Humans are not only drawn to it because they like butterflies, but it is also has an incredible scent. In fact it is probably the most fragrant Abelia. Unlike others, Chinese Abelia is not evergreen and its flowers bloom in clumps instead of singly. It has a gangly wild habit, forms a 5-6' tall and wide clump and is hardy in zones (6)7-9.


  1. I purchased 'Little Richard' last summer and love it! It bloomed well into fall and was a great plant. It seems a great wildlife plant. This year it has not bloomed and I notice many other abelias are in bloom. Wonder what the problem can be? Any ideas?

  2. I have the abelia grandiflora--it blooms heavily in the spring, sporadically into summer and fall. I think it needs a lot of sun and well-drained soil--mine's not very big (though it's about five years old), I think because of our clay. But I love it--and the Chinese one looks fabulous, Les. I'll look for it.

  3. I haven't seen the new cultivars just a few of the older varieties are in my full sun bordering yards...I think it has a bit of fragrance?


  4. I like the clustered effect of this Abelia. I have to admit that x grandiflora is not one of my favorites, although I can see its benefit as a wildlife magnet. I seem to be prejudiced against things with very fine texture in the landscape - Deutzias, Salvia microphylla, and Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost' (I have a total aversion to that one, for some reason!) Again, it's probably connected to my vision, which is less than stellar. The clusters of bloom on this one make it more attractive to me (not that anybody else gives a hoot!)

  5. A lovely plant; the butterfly on it in the last picture would sell me!

  6. It's too bad blogger can't add a scent gadget for garden blogs. I always find that scent triggers memories, especially from childhood. I love that photo of the butterfly and your images for GBBD below.

  7. Tina,
    It could be not blooming for a number of reasons, too young, too early, too shady. You could throw a handful of triple phosphate around it to jump start it. You could also wait until next year.

    Its a tuff plant - don't give up on it.

    Just wait, a new cultivar should be coming to a nursery near you soon.

    You are being decidedly non-trendy by not liking 'Diamond Frost', apparently it has been appointed the new "it" annual. I am not a big fan either, mainly because it is white.

    Thanks for stopping by. I had a hard time picking which butterfly to photograph.

    The scent on this is powerful, but unfortunately I think it (nor I) could not survive a Maine winter.

  8. The only abelia I have is 'Frances Mason' and I really love it. I saw 'Kaleidoscope' at a nursery last week and I wanted it but resisted the urge.