Abelia mosanensis

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For a plant with the complete package — fragrant flowers coupled with fantastic fall foliage — consider Korean abelia.

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June 2, 2022

Photos by Mark Dwyer

My appreciation for this shrub in the Caprifoliaceae family has grown over the last two decades as I’ve had the benefit of planting and observing a trio of fragrant abelias at the local public garden in Janesville, Wisconsin. When I first planted these shrubs, I knew very little about them except that their spring fragrance was highly regarded. Not only did the early spring fragrance exceed my expectations, it became my immediate favorite for an amazingly sweet aroma emitted over a wide radius. I’ve since promoted the use of this shrub, native to both North and South Korea, for many years for this fragrance and additional features of interest. I’m pleased to see increased availability of fragrant abelia in the past couple of years.

I was recently made aware that the Latin name of Abelia mosanensis is now Zabelia tyaihyonii which doesn’t roll of the tongue as easily to be sure. Both names are currently used interchangeably in the trade. The tight pink flower buds open to extremely fragrant, pinkish-white, tubular blooms that emit what I can only describe as a sweet and engaging aroma reminiscent of jasmine. A light breeze will allow you to enjoy the scent within 20-30 feet from the plant at peak bloom, which lasts about 10-14 days. Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are known to visit this shrub, as well. The glossy green foliage turns orange-red in the fall as do the leafy, persistent sepals. While the fall color is variable and comes late, it is a reliable orange, particularly in full sun. Deer and rabbits are also rare visitors to this shrub which also has very few insect or disease problems.

Reaching a height and width of 5-6 feet with loose, upright, arching branches, this shrub has an informal habit and blooms on old wood. Pruning should be done after flowering and a severe cutback or hard shearing every couple of years doesn’t hurt either (although this may be at the expense of flowering for one season depending on the timing). Best positioned in full sun, but adaptable to some dappled shade, fragrant abelia prefers slightly acidic, moist, well-drained soils but isn’t overly picky with average soils being acceptable. This plant has long been listed as hardy to USDA Zone 5 although the trio I mentioned above has survived two polar vortices. Fragrant abelia does not enjoy the heat and humidity of the deep South. The selection Sweet Emotion (‘SMNAMDS’) is promoted as hardy to Zone 4, as well as exhibiting superior flowering and a more refined habit. Another common variety is Bridal Bouquet (‘Monia’). Propagation is most common by rooted cuttings.

Why Grow Abelia mosanensis?

  • Heavy flowering (pinkish-white) in spring
  • Strong spring fragrance
  • Informal, arching form
  • Orange-red fall color
  • Attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds

Mark Dwyer is currently the Garden Manager for the Edgerton (WI) Hospital Healing Garden after 21 years as Director of Horticulture at Rotary Botanical Gardens (Janesville, WI). He also operates Landscape Prescriptions by MD, a landscape design and consultation business. mcdwyer@zoho.com