A shrub to 3 m tall. Shoot dense with stiff, curved hairs. Leaf ovate to obovate or lanceolate, 3–18 × 0.5–3 cm, base rounded, tip acute to long-acuminate; irregularly lobed on strongest shoots, margin entire or with 1–6 pairs of teeth; upper surface bluish green and quite glossy, with stiff hairs along the veins, lower surface pubescent when young; petiole 4–7 mm, with stiff hairs. Flowers April-June; inflorescence terminal, with paired flowers, moderately fragrant, or with additional flowers axillary to bracteoles; flowers sessile or with peduncles 0–12 mm long. Sepals 4, ovate-lanceolate to obovate. Corolla white, or pink to red outside, 4-lobed; lobes orbicular; tube pubescent inside. Stamens 4, included. Ovary to 8 mm with some stiff hairs; style as long as corolla. Fruiting August-September; achene 10–15 mm. (Flora of China 2021).
Distribution China Anhui, Fujian, SE Gansu, Guizhou, Henan, Hubei, Jiangxi, S Ningxia, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Sichuan, Xizang, Yunnan, Zhejiang
Habitat Scrub, forests, grasslands; to 3700 m asl.
USDA Hardiness Zone 6
RHS Hardiness Rating H6
Conservation status Not evaluated (NE)
As understood here, Zabelia dielsii is an equivalent species to Z. biflora from the southern and western half of China, and is more likely to have stiff hairs on the shoot and young leaf; however the authors of the Flora of China, which provides one of the few modern desciptions of these taxa, admit that their identification ‘is complex and needs to be investigated’ (Flora of China 2021).
Plants from Sichuan were introduced to the west (as ‘Abelia umbellata’) by Ernest Wilson between 1907 and 1910 (Bean 1976), and, in the UK at least, the group may have remained continously in cultivation. In the oceanic climate of Benmore Botanic Garden in Argyll, Scotland, Z. dielsii is represented by a 1957 accession (Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 2021); the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens have Coombes 483, collected in Yunnan (1998.0425) (Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 2021). The species was sold commercially from 2021 by Steve Law of Brighton Plants in West Sussex, from cuttings given to him by Peter Catt (Brighton Plants); this variety has quite showy maroon sepals. In the United States, however, the only evidence for the cultivation might be a few references to a cultivar named ‘Sherwoodii’ on the Dave’s Garden website, where (photographs) seem to show an Abelia × grandiflora (though not the clone ‘Sherwoodii’).