Sunday, December 24, 2023

Plant Story--Beauty Bush, Linnaea amabilis or Kolkwitzia amabilis

Beauty bush is a pretty shrub native to central China. It is a member of the honeysuckle family, Caprifoliacae. It was introduced first to Great Britain about 1900 and then to the United States. It became a popular garden plant in the U.S., though it was never as popular in Europe or China. It is rare in the wild. In the United States, it has naturalized in at least seven states, from Massachusetts to Utah.

beauty bush, Kolkwitzia amabilis
Beauty bush, Linnaea amabilis or Kolkwitzia amabilis

It is a pretty shrub, growing to about 10' high with an arching shape. In spring, it can be covered in pinkish white flowers with yellow centers. 

beauty bush, Linnaea amabilis
beauty bush Kolkwitzia amabilis flowers
Close up of beauty bush flowers, featuring a bumblebee's butt (right, middle)

The flowers attract a lot of pollinators, honeybees, bumble bees, and many smaller insects, making the plant ahum with activity.

The bark on older stems peels. I like interesting barks, so this makes this pretty plant more attractive. 

beauty bush, Linnaea amabilis, peeling bark

The seeds are in fuzzy little seed pods. Since the plant has naturalized in the United States, these are probably fertile, but I have not seen seedlings in my Colorado yard.

beauty bush, Linnaea amabilis seed pods

Beauty bush's scientific name honors German botanist Richard Kolkwitz as Kolkwitzia, with the species epithet amabilis, meaning lovely. When it was named, in 1901, beauty bush was the only plant in the genus Kolkwitzia. More than 100 years later, it remains the only Kolkwitzia. In 2013, Christenhusz at Kew Gardens published an analysis that moved beauty bush into the genus Linnaea. There is a clear lineage of honeysuckle relatives from a single source (monophyletic) that includes Kolkwitzia and Linnaea, and others. By putting them all into the genus Linnaea, Christenhusz drew a bigger circle, making a genus containing 16 species. Before that, Kolkwitzia, Linnaea, Vesalea, and Diabelia were single-species (monotypic) genera, Dipelta had three species, and the other nine species were Abelia species. World Flora Online and Wikipedia have accepted this revision but you find beauty bush as Kolkwitzia in the U.S.D.A. Plants data base, Missouri Botanic Garden's plant list and Kew Gardens' International Plant List Index. It has been a decade since the publication, which suggests that some authorities don't agree about the merger. Going with the change, all the nurseries will have to learn a new name; but at the same time, for everyone, there will be five fewer genus names to learn. 

[Botanical Note: Linnaea is a very famous genus, named for Linnaeus, founder of our bionomial nomenclature system, himself. The one plant in the genus Linnaea historically was the twin-flower, a small herb of the high Arctic, found across both in Eurasia and North America. Twin-flower was Linnaeus' favorite flower and the one he chose for his coat of arms when he was ennobled. [see photo twin-flower]. In the revision, there will be shrubs that are Linnaea species, including beauty bush which is temperate not arctic, from China not Europe, changing the way the genus Linnaea is seen. To conserve the name Linnaea, Christenhusz put all those others into Linnaeaanother debatable point.]

beauty bush, Linnaea amabilis

Flowers of twin-flower, Linnaea borealis, are dramatically paired. These close relatives, including beauty bush, have a pair-wise division of the flowers, but it is not as dramatic as in twin-flower.

Here is a photo of beauty bush that makes it look like a honeysuckle, which is the family to which it belongs. 

Linnaea amabilis, beauty bush
beauty bush

I have generally preferred lumping to splitting, putting more species into a genus, not making more genera. I have now learned Kol-k-witz-i-a is the genus for beauty bush, but I learned the genus Linnaea long ago. It will be easy remember that Linnaea is beauty bush's scientific name, so I'll support the revision. Not everyone likes the revision, you can join either group.

beauty bush, Linnaea amabilis
Plant in full flower

I can find no medicinal or other uses for beauty bush, but twin-flower and honeysuckles generally are used in herbal medicines and honeysuckle branches for construction, so I think the omission of beauty bush is because it was and is rare in China. Thus, beauty bush is known simply as an attractive ornamental shrub, which it is.

Comments and corrections welcome.


Christenhusz, M. J. M, 2015. Twins are not alone: a recircumscription of Linnaea (Caprifoliaceae). Phytotaxa. 125 (1) 25-32. 

  • The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Vascular Plants 2023. Kolkwitzia amabilis. Published on the Internet at and link 
  • Kolkwitzia amabilis. Missouri Plant Finder. link Accessed 12/21/23.
  • Lauener, L.A. 1996. The Introduction of Chinese Plants to Europe. SPB Academic Publishing, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. 
  • Linnaea amabilis. North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. link Accessed 12/21/23.
  • Linnaea amabilis. 2023. Wikipedia. link Accessed 12/23/23.
  • WFO. 2023. World Flora Online. Published on the Internet. Kolkwitzia amabilis link Accessed 12/23/23.
  • USDA. 2014. Kolkwitzia amabilis. USDA Plants data base. link Accessed 12/23/23.
  • Valder, P. 1999. The Garden Plants of China. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.

  • Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting! Beautiful plant. I had never heard of Mrs. Beauty but I am glad to meet her. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.