Skimmia japonica 'Rubella' in red flower bud
Skimmia japonica 'Rubella'

Arguably the most popular and attractive of all species and cultivars within the genus Skimmia, Skimmia japonica 'Rubella' is a compact, evergreen shrub noted for its glossy foliage and ornamental flower buds. The original species is native to Japan, China, and Southeast Asia, and is known to have been cultivated at the Royal gardens, Kew as far back as 1838, albeit under its earlier name of Skimmia oblata. It is a dioecious species, meaning that male and female flowers are produced on separate plants.

Botanical illustration of Skimmia japonica female form
Skimmia japonica - female
With the male form being the more compact and ornamental than the female it was the one selected for production. However, it did not obtain any particular attention from 18th century horticulturists as it did not produce the the expected beautiful fruits experienced with Skimmia reevesiana (the original recipient of the 'japonica' species name) until it was introduced from Japan by Scottish botanist Robert Fortune (1812 – 1880) in 1861 to Standish’s nursery in Greater Manchester.

The original species has since produced four cultivars (including Skimmia japonica 'Rubella') which have received the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. The 'Rubella' cultivar was introduced to France from China in 1865 by French naturalist Eugène Louis Simon (1848 – 1924) and then on to Britain before the end of the century.

Under favourable conditions you can expect Skimmia japonica 'Rubella' to reach an approximate height and width of 1-1.5 metres. It is a rounded evergreen shrub with glossy, dark-green, leathery leaves. Each leaf is elliptic in shape and up to 10 cm long and aromatic when crushed. It is most noted for is panicles of long-lasting, showy red buds which appear late winter. These open to fragrant, less-showy, creamy-white flowers in the early spring

Skimmia japonica 'Rubella' will perform best on a good neutral to acid soil in a North-facing or West-facing or East-facing position. Dig in plenty of leaf mould or well-rotted manure before planting to help maintain moist conditions. Avoid planting in full sun as this can cause yellowing of the leaves.

This species and its cultivars have proven to be generally trouble free although they can be prone to attack from scale insects, especially if grown under poor conditions. They require little pruning except to remove any untidy or elongated shoots.

Skimmia japonica 'Rubella' works well in the garden when used as an understory plant positioned under deciduous trees. It can also be used to form a low, informal hedge.

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