The New Southern Living Garden Book calls this plant “as common as barbecue and beer.” No, the reference is not to azaleas or crab grass, but instead to the perennial loropetalum (Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum), also know as Chinese fringe-flower. It is indeed everywhere in and about our county and available at most plant sales and garden centers. In early spring the pink flowers of loropetalum signal the change of seasons, along with the yellow blooms of daffodils and forsythia, and although by mid-April those pink blooms are gone, the attractive burgundy-colored foliage will endure throughout the year.
Its popularity is due not only to its beauty but to its resistance to disease and pests and its varied uses as an understory plant. Native to the Far East, it is happy in our climate, thrives in partial to full sun (and will tolerate shade), needs only moderate amounts of water, and is deer resistant. The rubrum variety grows 8-15 feet tall, but shorter, more compact cultivars are available.
Loropetalum prefers acid or
neutral soil and can exhibit signs of chlorosis (yellow leaves with green
veins) if the soil is too alkaline.
|Loropetalum at Sally Hillard Mini-Park at Evergreen and Belvedere|
The genus name Loreopetalum describes the flower shape and combines two Greek words, loron meaning strap and petalon meaning petal. The strap-shaped petals form in clusters similar to witch hazel blossoms; both plants are in the Hamamelidaceae family.
I learned about this perennial when I moved into my house and found two five-foot-tall shrubs in the backyard. I didn't recognize it; certainly, my flower-loving grandmother never grew it, since it wasn't introduced into the country until the late 1980s or early 1990s. It took me awhile to roll the name off my tongue (thanks to Mary Wade), and I have progressed to giving friends and even strangers lectures on the plant in grocery stores, in bank parking lots, and on street corners. A year or so ago, in a gardening article in the Commercial Appeal, Chris Gang recommended loropetalum and ocala anise as good choices for screens or borders. Since I have experience with both in my
landscape, of course I recommended these shrubs to a friend who was
searching for a privacy screen between her front porch and the neighboring
porch only a few feet away.
|Larger shrub in Evergreen Historic District|
Lorepetalum is more than just a shrub, however, although most specimens are shrub-like, growing in a natural mounding shape. Mine were, until they outgrew themselves into gangly, seven-foot tall masses, so that in February I cut them back. They are pitiful now, but I had seen this dire step in process in a nearby landscape and knew that the plants would become the shrubs I want in a year or two.
|Sheared loropetalum at Regions Bank on Cleveland Street|
Loropetalum can be sheared into a formal hedge like boxwood, as was the case in front of the Regions Bank on Cleveland Street. There is a wilder version of the loropetalum hedge near My Big Backyard at the Memphis Botanic Garden. A row of six-foot-tall (at least) Loropetalum lanceum, the white flowering species, lines the entry walk.
Loropetalum can be limbed up to make a single-trunked small tree. I have seen several examples of this in my neighborhood, with the tree usually located at the corner of a house. It can also be espaliered to a fence or wall. I have read that it can be used for bonsai.
I have just removed a dead gardenia beside my front porch and am wondering what to put in its place. Should it be another gardenia (not likely), an azalea (possibility), a Little Lime hydrangea (strong possibility), or something else? Maybe I should choose one of the compact versions of loropetalum that I keep recommending to everyone else!