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A deciduous shrub, very variable in habit and flower, the largest forms 10 to 15 ft high and wide-spreading bushes of open growth; branchlets four-angled, downy. Leaves 4 to 12 in. long, 1 to 3 in. wide; lanceolate or linear-lanceolate, finely toothed, with very long, tapered points; dark green and soon becoming glabrous above, white-felted beneath; stalks very short. Flowers fragrant, arranged densely in short, rounded clusters on slender panicles 6 to 30 in. long, according to the vigour of the plant and the variety, and appearing from July to October, or later. Corolla varying in colour from lilac to purple, orange-yellow at the mouth, the tube 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 in. long, the limb 1⁄6 to 1⁄3 in. wide, flower-stalks and calyx more or less felted. Seed-vessel smooth 1⁄4 to 1⁄3 in. long, cylindrical, pointed. Bot. Mag., t. 7609.
Native of Central and W. China up to 9,000 ft; discovered by the French missionary David in 1869; specimens collected later by Henry were described by Hemsley under the name B. variabilis, under which it was long known in gardens. It was first introduced from Russia, no doubt from seed collected by one of the Russian explorers, but this was an inferior form, being of comparatively weak, low, semi-prostrate habit, poor in colour of flower. A second and much superior form was introduced to France in 1893 and was raised in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris, and by the nursery firm of Vilmorin. This introduction had a more erect habit and flowers in denser and longer panicles; it resembled var. veitchiana, later introduced by Wilson. It is from Wilson’s seed, collected in Hupeh and Szechwan during the years 1900-8, that the garden varieties of the present day are descended. The following botanical varieties have been distinguished:
Only one white-flowered selection was mentioned – ‘White Profusion’. This is perhaps the best of those available, but ‘Peace’ runs it very close.
An interesting new introduction from Holland is B. davidii ‘Nanho Purple’, the result of a cross between B.d. var. nanhoensis and B.d. ‘Royal Red’, back-crossed with the latter. It is of lax, spreading habit, with willow-like, sea-green leaves mostly under 1 in. wide, and narrow trusses of violet-purple flowers with orange eyes (Dendroflora No. 17, p. 46 (1980)). It is very vigorous and free-flowering, but needs plenty of room.
B. variabilis var. nanhoensis Chittenden
B. variabilis var. veitchiana Veitch