A semi-evergreen, erect shrub to 1.5 m tall. Shoots purplish, densely hairy with erect hairs up to 0.1 mm long, interspersed with short-stalked glandular hairs and a few erect hairs to 0.6 mm long; bark reddish-brown, ultimately flaking. Leaves ovate to elliptic, 0.4–2.8 × 0.2–1.7 cm, rounded at the base and often pointed at the tip, often grey-green beneath and sparsely hairy but more densely so under the base of the midrib; margin ciliate, entire or distantly glandular-toothed; petiole to 2 mm. Flowers June-August, slightly fragrant, solitary or sometimes forming large panicle-like inflorescences, held horizontally or drooping. Peduncles densely hairy, 2–3 mm long. Calyx lobes 2; sepals ovate to oblong, 5–10 × 4–5 mm, with a ciliate margin, often reddish. Corolla 1.5–3 cm long, red-purple, glandular-hairy, the throat bearded and strongly speckled orange; tube expanding abruptly to the mouth and bulging ventrally; corolla lobes subequal, ovate, slightly recurved. Stamens downy at the base. Fruit ripening October–December, 1-seeded, to 8 mm long, flattened and ridged. (Landrein & Farjon 2020).
Distribution China Gansu, Sichuan, Xizang (Tibet), Yunnan
Habitat Mountain forests in deep valleys.
USDA Hardiness Zone 7
RHS Hardiness Rating H5
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
Abelia schumannii was introduced to the Arnold Arboretum in Massachusetts (where the species is only marginally hardy) by Ernest Wilson in 1910, and thence to Kew; it was named by Paul Graebner after the German botanist Karl Moritz Schumann, who had died in 1904 (Landrein & Farjon 2020). It is part of a complex of Chinese species which includes the more widespread and variable A. macrotera and, further east, A. uniflora. Visually, these species cannot always be separated with confidence, but genetic analyses (Landrein et al. 2017) have more or less confirmed the assumptions of earlier botanists such as Graebner that they represent good species. A. schumannii can sometimes be told by the shape of its flowers, which widen abruptly towards the mouth (Landrein et al. 2017), but there is a natural zone of transition with A. macrotera (in its var. zabelioides); a hybrid of this sort is currently represented in cultivation in the west by A. ‘Maurice Foster’ (q.v.).
Wilson collected and introduced several strains during his 1910 expedition, and some of these are listed in older references under names such as Abelia graebneriana, A. engleriana and A. parvifolia, which according to Landrein and Farjon’s nomenclature are varieties of A. macrotera (Landrein & Farjon 2020). One clone from this group was known as ‘Vedrariensis’ and had larger leaves and bolder yellow markings in the throat of the flower (Edwards & Marshall 2019); ‘Vedrariensis’ was not one of the cultivated clones whose DNA was studied by Landrein et al. (2017) but recent (photographs) imply that it may still be in cultivation in parts of Europe. Having studied the various herbarium specimens associated with these 1910 introductions, however, Landrein and Farjon state with confidence that ‘Abelia schumannii is the only cultivated species of the A. uniflora species complex’ (Landrein & Farjon 2020), and, if only to simplify a complex picture, all of the plants of this group which are currently grown in the west are assumed to belong to the relatively uniform A. schumannii.
Abelia schumannii has larger and more richly coloured flowers than those of A. × grandiflora (the common ‘Abelia’ in the west) though they are scarcely scented. Its genes have contributed to the popular ‘Edward Goucher’ and to cultivars treated alongside that selection in this work, and plants assumed to represent ‘pure’ A. schumannii are also still quite widely sold, at least in the UK (Royal Horticultural Society 2020). A. schumannii is hardy in the south-eastern United States, where it may begin to flower as early as May and where its quite thick and glossy leaves take on a purplish cast in autumn and are largely shed (Dirr 2009), though Bean observed that in the cold winters of the early 20th century it was often cut to the base by winter cold at Kew (Bean 1976) – a reminder as to how much the southern English climate has changed over the last hundred years.
Synonyms / alternative names
Abelia × grandiflora 'Bumblebee'
Abelia schumannii 'Bumble Bee'
Abelia longituba 'Bumblebee'
Abelia schumannii 'Bumblebees'
A European selection with paler, less profuse flowers (Dirr 2009).
An old selection with larger, deeper green leaves and larger flowers, prominently blotched in the throat (Bean 1976). It was originally grown as a cultivar of Abelia graeberiana (A. macrotera in Landrein and Farjon’s taxonomy (Landrein & Farjon 2020)), but it was selected from cultivated plants all of which, according to those authors, are best placed under A. schumannii. ‘Vedrariensis’ may still be cultivated in central Europe (Stewart 2021).