If it’s new, it’s gotta be good. Right? Seasoned gardeners know that’s not always the case, but when the pink-flowering Chinese fringe flower (Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum; also horticulturally listed as Chinese fringeflower) hit the market, it was all the rage. This shrub went from relative obscurity to being widely available in less than five years’ time – a short span for a new introduction!

Pink Chinese Fringe Flower bloom

The pink-flowering Chinese fringe flower soared in popularity in American gardens almost as soon as it was introduced to the market.

Photo Credit: Gerald L. Klingaman

Loropetalum

Loropetalum can grow up to 12 feet tall, so plant the shrub where it’s got some room to grow, or you’ll be spending a lot of time shearing it.

Photo Credit: Gerald L. Klingaman

Plum Delight® fringe flower

Plum Delight® fringe flower is a popular cultivar throughout the southern US.

Photo Credit: John Rickard

Loropetalum maroon foliage

Attractive maroon foliage keeps its beautiful color all summer long.

Photo Credit: Gerald L. Klingaman

What made this broadleaf evergreen so special? Its good looks certainly helped. But the fact the nursery trade really backed this plant really encouraged gardeners to buy it up.

A member of the witchhazel family, the plant’s typical white-flowering form,Loropetalum chinense, is a large, mounded evergreen shrub reaching 10-12 feet tall. Clusters of white flowers with narrow, strap-shaped petals appear at the end of branches typically in March. While hardy to USDA hardiness Zone 7, the shrub becomes deciduous in the northern part of its range. (In fact, it freezes back at around 5 degrees F.) While the species is quite lovely, the excitement for Chinese fringeflower wasn’t over the white form of the plant, but the similar pink-flowered form with maroon leaves that more recently arrived on American shores.

By the early 1990s, several arboretums had obtained pink-flowering varieties. By 1993, the US National Arboretum in Washington, DC, decided to name the plants they introduced (‘Blush’ and ‘Burgundy’), and it released them to the nursery trade.

It wasn’t long before nurseries were in on the action. In California, Monrovia Nursery Co. and Hines Nurseries attempted to secure plant patents for their introductions. In the mid 1990s, Monrovia introduced a patented purple-leafed Loropetalum, Razzleberri™ fringeflower. (According to most authorities and the DNA fingerprinting work conducted in 1996, it’s substantially the same as the USDA release ‘Blush’, a non-patented plant.) Hines Nurseries also introduced Plum Delight® Chinese fringe flower. (It’s very similar to the USDA’s release ‘Burgundy’, but the gene mapping study shows some minor differences.) Between 1994 and 1996, an additional five clones were introduced from Japan.

So what does all this mean? It’s simple: Home gardeners now have a lot of beautiful Chinese fringe flowers to choose from. And more good news is that Loropetalum is very easy shrub to grow. It thrives in sun or light shade in any well-drained, sandy-loam to loam soil with a slightly acid pH. Unfortunately, the shrub lacks good drought tolerance, so be sure to keep it watered well during dry spells.

The shrub’s naturally graceful, arching and open branching pattern makes it particularly well-suited to the looser look of today’s landscapes, but many gardeners often forget the plant has the potential of reaching 12 feet tall and wide. Just be sure to plant it in a spot more suitable for a forsythia or mockorange instead of a dwarf holly.

More than a decade later, the popularity of this beautiful shrub is still going strong! So while not everything that’s new will work out for your home garden, do keep an eye out for those plants the nursery trade really gets behind – there’s definitely something special about them – just like Chinese fringe flower.