Dear Readers, in the spring time it’s so easy to get carried away by the bulbs and the blossom that I fail to notice the new growth on some of the shrubs and trees around me. And so, on a bright but cold day, I was suddenly brought up short by the shiny, perfect crimson growth on this Photinia. The ‘Red Robin’ variant is the one most often seen, but my RHS magazine this week points out a couple of other varieties too.
This one is known as ‘Pink Marble’ or ‘Cassini’ – the bright red leaves are streaked with vivid pink, turning to white as the leaves mature.
And this one is known as ‘Crunchy’ – the leaves are serrated and emerge copper-brown, turning to chestnut and then green. This is derived from a different Photinia species from the usual Photinia x fraseri cross – Photinia serratifolia is otherwise known as the Chinese or Taiwanese Hawthorn, and has those very spiky, rather striking leaves.
Photinias are members of the rose family, and their name derives from the Greek for ‘shiny’. The wild plant comes from the warm, temperate parts of Asia, from the Himalayas east to Japan, and south to India and Thailand. There are about 60 species of Photinias, all of them shrubs or small trees. In addition to their very attractive spring foliage, a happy Photinia will reward the gardener with a mass of white flowers in the summer, followed by berries which are very popular with thrushes, starlings and waxwings, and which may stay on the plant right through the winter (hence the alternative name ‘Christmas Berry’).
The leaves of some species contain cyanide, but this doesn’t stop them being munched upon by the caterpillars of the Common Emerald, Feathered Thorn and Setaceous Hebrew Character moths. This last moth is so named because it was thought that it had the Hebrew Character ‘Nun’ on its wings( נ). I note that some species of Photinia are mentioned as herbal remedies, for everything from worms to piles, but I must confess that I find the cyanide thing a bit disconcerting. I note that at least one website also mentions that the plant is considered to be ‘excessively aphrodisiac’, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.
In his book ‘London’s Street Trees’, Paul Wood mentions that Photinia, though normally seen as shrubs, are becoming more popular as small street trees, and indeed I found some when I was doing my Archway Street Tree Walk back in 2017. I think they make rather pleasant additions to the landscape, and no doubt the birds will be delighted.
I imagine the autumn colour will be quite something as well.
And now readers, a poem. I thought that finding a poem that specifically mentioned Photinia would be something of a struggle, but I had reckoned without the Society of Classical Poets. They are on a mission to preserve the attributes of metre and rhyme in poetry and while I recognise that poets are a varied lot, and that finding a definition of poetry that works for everyone is almost impossible, I applaud their zest and enthusiasm. I rather like a poem that rhymes and has that satisfying sense of rhythm – such poems seem to stay in the head for longer, and are certainly easier to learn. And so here is my Photinia-related poem by David Watt, a poet from Canberra, Australia. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
The hedge plants are trimmed by a gardener with shears
As they have been, like clockwork, for twenty-five years.
Yet they push out new shoots in continuing hope
Of extending their reach through the fence on the slope;
Protruding through uprights, with glossy new tips,
Their ruby leaves follow, like sensuous lips;
Curved in the middle and quivering so
From the gentlest of breeze, as it moves down the row.
When the gardener arrives, I expect the hedge moans:
“Can’t you see that we’re covering ironwork bones?
Softening edges gives purpose for hedges,
And Nature gives pleasure wherever her edge is.
“Borders are fitting for nations and states,
The banks of a river, or dinnerware plates;
But not for Photinia branches and stems,
Or sweet-smelling flowers in white diadems.
“The feature we share, let us not be mistaken,
Is to never give up though our dreams are forsaken—
When time and again every effort is met
By failure to further our reach past regret.
In fact, we have assets that few would suspect:
An underground network, and time to reflect
“On theory developed from close observation,
A lifetime of fieldwork, and growing frustration;
Which holds that our gardener grows brittle with age,
And little by little, he’s reaching the stage
Where lifting a cutter may shatter a limb—
Soon he will discover the joke is on him!”
Photo One by By Lamiot – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4352407
Photo Two by By Hectonichus – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17370251
Photo Three By Please report references to firstname.lastname@example.org. – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1186278