Plant of the Week
Latin: Abelia x grandiflora
I once worked in a nursery and had a customer request a shrub for their
landscape that was evergreen and bloomed all summer long. That’s a tall order
but a shrub that comes awfully close is the old fashioned glossy abelia. While
it’s semi-evergreen at best it does produce half inch long white blooms from mid
May until the first hard freeze, a feat shared by few garden shrubs. While the
glossy abelia is never covered with a mass of flowers like an azalea, its
persistence of bloom keeps it from receding into the background with the other
spring blooming shrubs.
It is appropriate that glossy abelia should be such a determined bloomer because
it is a reminder of the stiff-upper-lip attitude of those who initially found,
lost and then finally introduced it into cultivation. Abelia is named after
Clarke Abel (1780-1826) who was a surgeon and naturalist on the second
unsuccessful British embassy to China in 1816. The embassy was attempting to
obtain more favorable trading privileges for the English East India Company,
which they finally accomplished by the Opium Wars 20 years later.
Abel collected specimens and seeds of a new plant, later named Abelia chinensis
in his honor, while he and the embassy were being politely but firmly ushered
out of the country along the Grand Canal. On his return voyage the ship struck
an uncharted reef and the party found itself shipwrecked near present day
Sumatra in Indonesia. The day after the wreck they managed to retrieve some of
the plant specimens only to have the small boat they were using attacked and
burned by pirates. While Abel returned to England empty handed, he was fortunate
enough to have left duplicate specimens of some of the material with an
acquaintance in Canton. These duplicate sets were returned to him and used to
establish the plant as a new member of the honeysuckle family.
Abel’s Abelia was finally introduced into England as a living plant in 1844 by
Robert Fortune. Some time about 1900 a gardener or nurseryman had the
inspiration to cross Abelia chinensis with A. uniflora, another Chinese species,
and the glossy abelia as we know it today was born. Unfortunately no record
remains of who made this cross.
Glossy abelia is an easily grown plant that should be located in bright light,
or preferably full sun. It produces long wispy growth covered with maroon tinged
leaves and terminal clusters of white bell shaped flowers that have a red calyx
beneath the flower. Too often the plant is sheared to make a clipped shrub that
looks more like a toadstool than a plant. A better remedy is to remember that
the plant grows 6 feet tall and wide, so give it plenty of room. When it needs
pruning to control size, cut it back severely in the spring just before it
begins growing. It should be pruned about as severely as the forsythia and at
about the same time, which is early spring.
By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension News -
August 13, 1999
The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.
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