Monday, May 6, 2013

Plant of the Day: Beautybush

Beautybush (Kolkwitzia amabilis) is in bloom now. From a distance the flowers look white, but lean a little closer and you can see just how not white they are. You would never suspect all this floral detail if you didn't like to investigate and uncover plant secrets as you wander about outside, now would you? But, I know you are not one to let indifference obscure any of this beauty!

Beautybush is related to honeysuckle (Caprifoliaceae family), but is the only species in the Kolkwitzia genus, which incidentally is named for a 19th century German botanist, Richard Kolkwitz. The plant received the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Merit in 1923 and immediately became popular in gardens at home as well as abroad. Your grandmother probably had one.

Niche Gardens (where I bought mine as a tiny stick in a pot one March) describes beautybush as a classic passalong plant. I haven't tried to propagate it yet, but I have little doubt one could put a cutting in the ground and it would root. It just looks easy, and I've had good luck rooting shrubs that way.

a fuzzy phone zoom pic of the
first swallowtail of the season
sipping Kolkwitzia
In spite of the cool flowers, I've been tempted to remove my shrub because it is taking up such a good-sized chunk of sun-drenched real estate. I mentioned this to my husband/shrub-remover, and he looked at me skeptically and tentatively replied that he likes the shrub and wasn't so sure about moving it. An opinion about plants is so rare from him that I was taken aback. But when my teenage daughter admired a branch full of blooms and even exclaimed that the flowers were "so pretty!," I decided to join the likers and just admire it myself and forget about adding any more sun-loving plants.

Shortly after making that decision, a swallowtail flitted over and landed on a flowering branch. And then I noticed something else: perfume. Usually the temperatures are 10–15 degrees warmer here when beautybush blooms. Heat evaporates any sweet smell, leaving only the nose-tickly scent of pollen. But in the cool humidity of this spring, there is a very sweet and pleasant French perfume scent, not unlike Clethra.

I'm glad we left it alone for another year.


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