A Shrub for Every Situation
Until the nineties, few people used Loropetalum plants in the landscape. They grew more like small trees than shrubs, up to fifteen feet tall. It was often planted in woodland gardens, even though it wasn’t native. It suited woodland sites because of its loose-branching, flowing form. In winter the foliage is evergreen (or ever-burgundy for the rubrum cultivars). In spring, the white forms of Loropetalums bloom stringy white flowers while the rubrum forms flower a strong pink. The blooms look a lot like Witch-hazel blooms. It is called Chinese fringe tree to denote its origin and to describe the flower.
Then red flowered forms were a sensation in the nursery industry. The rosy pink foliage of the first red-flowered forms were further developed into deep purple or bronze foliaged forms. Then dwarf cultivars were created. They are obviously easy to propagate. You can find some form of Loropetalum, small – medium-large, in every nursery or big box store in the south.
Loropetalums tolerate dry shade. Because their leaves are furry, they tend to handle drought well and preserve moisture. I’ve seen them survive roadside plantings in mass. Their fuzzy leaves can act as a natural Velcro-like surface, clinging to your clothing when you prune the branches. They also deter deer. Loropetalums may not be graceful, but they are strong and tolerant of harsh growing conditions.
The tall types can be tree-formed, but it would be time-consuming. The foliage is too thick and dense, and it shoots out stiffly from the trunks. Loropetalum’s arching branches look suitable in an Asian garden style.
The popularity of Loropetalum is seen as it is used as an ever-present companion to golden Threadleaf false cypress Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Golden Mop’. Using strong chartreuse-yellow foliage in a landscape is okay, as long as it is done tastefully. Deep maroon purple alongside chartreuse, especially with the magenta blooms of Loropetalum, evokes black light and tattoos. Teenagers can use shocking color combinations successfully to annoy their parents, but a landscape continues to grow for decades. The purple/pink/chartreuse combination garners attention, but not in a harmonious way.
Loropetalums are carefree and may eventually be overplanted. Loropetalums still look great in woodland settings, but the new cultivars have earned a spot in foundation plantings and general landscape use.
Tall Loropetalums (Loropetalum chinensis and Loropetalum chinensis var. rubrum)
Loropetalums have ribbon-like petals on their flowers in spring, but their most outstanding ornamental trait is their foliage color. It’s a bit of a jolt to see the purple-leaved cultivars in bloom, with the combination of deep maroon/purple leaves and Barbie-pink flowers! It’s enough to make a color expert sick. Of course, they have attention-getting power. Zone 7.
The species is a white-blooming form with ho-hum green foliage. It is a bit hard to find in nurseries due to the frenzy for the purple cultivars with names like ‘Zhuzhou’ and ‘Plum Delight’ out there.
• The rubrum ‘Zhu-zhou Fuchsia’ is fun to say. I don’t think it can be counted on to stay low, so be vigilant in removing reversions sprouting uninvited. The purple colored foliage is reliably stable. This one will get six to ten feet tall quickly. The form is upright with ascending branches. The foliage is a deep purple.
• Loropetalum var. rubrum ‘Hines Purpleleaf’, ‘Purple Majesty’ are descendants of ‘Burgundy’, one of the original, new purple forms. They can grow from six to fifteen feet. New leaves are a rosy red.
• ‘Sizzling Pink’/’Burgundy’ is more maroon-green than purple, and grows to ten feet.
• Loropetalum chinensis is the white-flowering form. It grows to fifteen feet.
Medium Shrub Loropetalum Cultivars
Loropetalums are exploding in popularity right now because of new, purple-leaved cultivars that stay well below the species twelve-foot height. They are very drought tolerant, but don’t like the cold. Zone 7. I have seen huge sweeps of dwarf Loropetalums on highway plantings, doing just fine. Because of their undaunted survival in the worst situations, they will only get more popular. Because of their popularity, think carefully before specifying them on every single planting plan. Too much of a good thing can go bad. They may develop diseases as a result of being planted everywhere.
‘Carolina Moonlight’ (five to six’ tall) and ‘Emerald Snow’ (four to six’ tall) are two white cultivars with green foliage.
It is difficult to keep up with all the new purple varieties, and they like to revert to the original rubrum form. Each year more are introduced. A catchy name might end up dominating the market, even though other choices are better. The leaves are rough. This may give it its extraordinary drought tolerance. The deep maroon purple is almost black on some cultivars.
• I wish I could find the early Loropetalum var. rubrum ‘Blush’ (four to five’ tall) in the big box stores. It was a great performer, and stays four to six feet tall. The foliage aged from bronze to olive green to nice effect. ‘Raspberry Fringe’ is similar, or you might be able to purchase it as ‘RazzleberriTM ’ or ‘Monraz TM ’. It was one of the earliest rubrums. Each shrub holds several different gradient tones of green to bronze foliage along its branches.
• The rubrums ‘Ever Red’®, ‘Ever Red Sunset’, ‘Dark Fire’, ‘Chang’s Ruby’, ‘Red Chocolate’, and ‘Ruby’ all have very dark purple, almost black, foliage and deep rose red, almost true red, flowers. They range from five to seven feet tall.
• The rubrums ‘Pipa’s Red’, ‘Carolina Midnight’ and ‘Red Diamond’, are upright, rather than the typical pendulous, arching habit with almost black foliage. They grow from five to six feet tall.
• The rubrum ‘Plum Delight TM’ has bronze foliage and prolific, pink blooms. It grows from three to five feet tall.
• The rubrum ‘Purple Diamond’®stays in a tight mound under four feet tall.
Dwarf Loropetalum Cultivars
Some of the dwarf cultivars listed below are very well behaved! They are excellent choices for placement under low windows. Even though I have seen dwarf cultivars revert to taller versions of themselves, you can maintain their diminutive size by clipping out any long, vigorous stems that try to revert back to taller versions.
• ‘Snow Muffin’ has white flowers and green leaves and grows to two or three feet tall.
• rubrum ‘Fire Dance’ grows from three to six feet with the foliage changing from bronze to green through the season.
• rubrum ‘Crimson Fire’ and ‘Purple Pixie’ stay well under two feet and eventually spreads to four feet.
• rubrum ‘Daruma’ grows from two to five feet tall and the flowers repeat throughout the season.