The Bright Hues of Loropetalum Shrubs

This hard-to-pronounce shrub can provide both decoration and privacy

Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum in bloom, with its pink flowers.
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Not many people know the name of the Loropetalum, a group of shrubs that originated in Asia. Maybe that's because, when spoken, it sounds a bit like a "laura pendulum bush," or perhaps because it's hard to spell. However, if you refer to the plant as "those purple bushes," folks are more likely to understand what you're talking about.

Loropetalum's common name is Chinese fringe, but that monikor only adds to the confusion—the same common name also refs to the tree Chionanthus retusus, which doesn't look anything like loropetalum shrubs.

Once you know the actual name of the shrub you want—in this case, the loropetalum—you can plant and start caring for it.

Characteristics of Loropetalum Shrubs

Chinese loropetalum, the official name of the plant, is an evergreen, multi-stemmed shrub of the broadleaf variety that's part of witch hazel family. You can see the similarity of the flower to that of the namesake shrub of this family, witch hazel shrub, which also bears a fringe-like bloom. 

Bloom time is March or April, depending on where you garden, and the shrub bears clusters of subtly fragrant flowers in spring. In many cultivars, the foliage is green and flowers are white or off-white. Other varieties, though, have reddish or pink flowers and purple foliage that make this bush popular in landscaping. 

The plant has a spreading form and, under ideal conditions, may attain a height of 12 feet with a width that is about the same or sometimes less.

Planting Loropetalum Shrubs

Popular in the Southeastern U.S., loropetalum is best grown in planting zones 7 to 10. It may survive winter in a colder climate but most likely will not be evergreen there.

Thinking of growing this plant in a climate colder than zone 7? To increase the shrub's chances of survival, apply garden mulch to protect its root system and grow it where it will enjoy a warmer microclimate, such as a sheltered nook near a building.

The shrub prefers a rich, well-drained loam with some acidity. The farther south you go, the more loropetalum can profit from a location with partial shade (which may, however, result in fewer blooms and a less-intense foliage color for kinds such as Razzleberri, Ever Red, Ruby, and Burgundy). At the northern end of its range, you can grow them in full sun if you water them whenever the soil dries out. Young plants should be kept well watered when it is hot outside regardless of where they are growing.

Loropetalum shrubs are used in landscaping as specimen plants and in foundation plantings, for example. If you are willing to shear them regularly, the shrubs can be used in hedges; otherwise, they require little, if any pruning, making them low-maintenance plants. On the other end of the spectrum, for those who relish the idea of putting a lot of care into growing their plants, you can grow them bonsai-style (be prepared to prune meticulously).

Mix compost into the soil at planting time. Not only will the compost act as a slow-release fertilizer, but it will also improve drainage. This is important for a loropetalum shrub, which is susceptible to root rot. For the same reason, when you plant the bush, be sure not to sink the top of the root ball below the soil surface. 

Popular Types of Colorful Loropetalum

Stand Loropetalum plants have green leaves and white flowers. However, other cultivars are popular for their bright foliage and flowers.

  • L. chinense var. rubrum (Burgundy): The Burgundy cultivar may be the best pick for foliage fanatics. When young, the leaves of Burgundy are reddish-purple. In summer, its leaves darken, becoming a greenish-purple. But, in autumn, the foliage turns a bright red. Its pink blooms stand out well against its foliar color. Burgundy reaches a height of 6 to 10 feet, with a similar width.
  • L. chinense var. rubrum (Ruby): Being a true dwarf, Ruby makes for a nicely compact, rounded shrub, averaging 4 feet by 4 feet. Its new foliage is ruby red (thus the name) and its flowers hot pink.
  • L. chinense var. rubrum (Ever Red): If you really crave a type with red flowers, the closest thing that you will find to a true red is Ever Red. Its leaves are a dark burgundy color, and its size is approximately 5 feet by 5 feet.
  • L. chinense var. rubrum (Razzleberri): Razzleberri has raspberry-red flowers, and the new leaves bear hints of burgundy. It becomes 4 to 6 feet tall, with a spread of 4 to 5 feet.