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Use 'loropetalum' as aromatic, low-effort plant

Posted Tuesday, April 26, 2005 - 9:55 am

By Durant Ashmore

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There is a new twist on an old-fashioned plant that has become extremely popular these days. This plant is the Chinese fringe plant, or loropetalum. There are a few other plants out there that share the common name of fringe plant or Chinese fringe plant (primarily chionanthus, a genus which includes Grancy Grey-beard). For this reason I will refer to these plants as loropetalum throughout the rest of this column.

The large growing white flowering loropetalums have been mainstays of the finest of Southern gardens for more than 100 years. They were introduced from China in 1880. These plants grow 8-10-feet tall and 6-8-feet wide. They are very aromatic in the spring when they are covered in white blooms. Another real bonus for all varieties of loropetalum is that they can grow in full sun to partial shade, they have no insect problems and no problems with fungus assuming they don't have wet feet.

The white loropetalums are useful in a wide variety of applications. They can be used singly as a specimen plant or grouped in mass. They are very effective as hedge plants. They do quite well when left alone unpruned. If you do choose to prune your loropetalum they tolerate this quite well. Selective pruning can make outstanding specimens of this plant.

For hedge plantings they can be formally sheared into a trapezoidal shape with the top smaller than the bottom of the plant so that the bottom growth is not shaded out. Formal hedges are the only appropriate situation to shear this plant. Otherwise, let it grow naturally, using judicious pruning only when necessary.

One application which these large white loropetalums lend themselves to quite readily is espalier. These plants can be easily trained on a trellis or trained to grow up a brick wall. Any application which is appropriate for espaliered sasanqua camellia is appropriate for loropetalum. As you can tell, I heartily recommend the use of this plant in our Piedmont landscapes.

The new twist that has been added to these plants is the red leafed, pink blooming varieties. These varieties are repeat bloomers with some of them blooming in the spring, summer and fall. There is an incredible interest among nurserymen about these new varieties. They were only introduced from China in the very late 1980s and have only been known to us for 15 years, yet there are dozens of varieties that have been developed in this short time. The pink blooming varieties come in all sizes from 3-feet to 12-feet tall.

Because these varieties are so new, there is some confusion about the descriptions of loropetalums. The smallest of the pink blooming loropetalums is "ruby" which grows 3-feet tall and wide. "Burgundy" is classified as 4- to 6-feet tall and wide, but I have seen it described as 8-by8. Also, a lot of burgundies have been mislabeled in the trade. At an early age all of these loropetalums look the same. Since burgundy is in the mid-range size grouping, a lot of loropetalums have been labeled as such in a hit or miss fashion. Other mid-range loropetalums are "pizzazz," "blush" (green interior, pale pink exterior leaves) and "dwarf zhouzhou" to name a few.

The tallest growing of these pink flowering loropetalums is "zhouzhou" (named after the location in China where it was collected). Zhouzhou can be used in the same manner that the old-fashioned white flowering loropetalums can be used (i.e., singly or in groups, as a hedge or espalier). Tree form zhouzhou loropetalum makes a very elegant (and expensive) specimen plant.

The pink flowering loropetalums are replacing some plants that have been used extensively in our contemporary landscapes, which according to some authors is a good thing. In particular, ruby loropetalum is being used instead of crimson pygmy barberry. This barberry gives a brilliant splash of purple to red color in the landscape, but the fact that it is deciduous and doesn't flower is a drawback to some designers. Also, some designers think crimson pygmy barberry is gaudy. Ruby loropetalum has also been recommended to replace dwarf nandina, another plant some designers regard as gaudy.

Loropetalum is really a good plant to use in a low-maintenance Piedmont landscape, as long as you know the size of the plant you are purchasing. They have very few disease and insect problems, flower repeatedly with aromatic flowers, tolerate sun or shade and provide a great deal of interest to the landscape. This is a hard plant to go wrong with.

Editor's note: Columnist Durant Ashmore, MLA, of Fountain Inn, is certified by the South Carolina Nursery Association. He can be reached at 243-3446 or

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