Loropetalum chinense, sometimes called the fringe flower, is a beautiful and versatile shrub that is a member of the witch hazel family (Hamameliadaceae) from China and the Himalayas. It is usually seen as a dense rounded shrub that only grows to 3-5 feet tall with arching branches bearing soft 1-2 inch long light green leaves. The typical form has white flowers, each with 4 narrow petals, clustered at the branch tips. Flowering is heaviest in the spring but sporadic flowers are likely to occur at anytime of the year. The versatility of Loropetalum is that it can be grown in mild coastal climates in light shade to full sun, yet can tolerate the cooler winter temperatures and heat associated with other regions. A primary difference in the plants grown in these extremes is whether the plant remains evergreen or not. Here in coastal California, it is evergreen and older specimens can be found that have obtained a height of 15 feet; more a small tree than a shrub. In colder climates (Zone 7 USDA and below) one can at best expect Loropetalum to be a deciduous shrub. Plant in neutral to slightly acidic soil and irrigate occasionally – plants prefer it moist but not wet.
The white fringe flower has always been an underused plant but with the recent introduction of new red and pink flowering forms (Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum cultivars), the popularity of the entire genus is assured. A measure of this new status is that one can now buy Loropetalum at Home Depot and other mass merchandisers. These new cultivars have emerged on the market so rapidly since their initial introduction to the United States that adequate descriptive data and cultural information is severely lacking. In addition, and much to the disservice to the retail consumer, these plants are being marketed in areas where they are not likely to thrive.