Among the broad-leaved evergreens which hold places of high esteem as garden subjects, several species of the Asiatic genus photinia command particular attention. Chinese photinia (P. serrulata) is the best of these generally available for areas of moderate climate. At least three others introduced by E. H. Wilson were highly regarded in their native land and it is unfortunate that after so many years they are not better known here.
Photinias are limited in their natural distribution to the Japanese islands and eastern Asia. These plants have much in common with shadbushes and chokeberries, and their brilliant fruits carried in rounded panicles show close relationship to mountain-ashes. Another close relative is the popular toyon or Christmas-berry of California. The best known deciduous species, P. villosa, has been widely planted in Europe and North America, and it is not at all uncommon to find volunteer seedlings establishing themselves in many districts. Although a vigorous and attractive subject, this shrub has no marked advantages over the deciduous cousins noted above nor over the many fine stranvaesia or ornamental crabapples.
This is far from the case with Photinia serrulata, however. When one thinks of adding lustrous evergreen leaves with rich coppery red and pink tones in spring to the well-known beauties of shadbushes and crabapples, the prospect is exciting indeed. A British East India Company captain brought the first plants of Chinese photinia back with him from Canton in 1804. Within a few years Captain Kirkpatricks prize had become very popular and was fairly well distributed among gardening enthusiasts.
Shoots and young leaves of this plant command immediate attention because of their striking reddish coloration: buds, petioles and midribs usually retain this effect. The leaves are more or less oblong, from 4 to 8 inches long and with finely toothed margins, as the scientific name indicates. Oddly enough, although the leaves are evergreen and usually remain on the branchlets through the winter and even for several months longer in mild areas, they often show fine autumn coloration in tones of pink, something after the fashion of Carolina rhododendrons.
In earliest spring, even in March in Florida, Texas and Georgia, terminal buds expand into graceful rounded panicles, with many branches eventually measuring up to 6 inches across. Jewel-like flower buds open to show five petals and 20 delicate stamens at the center. Though less than half an inch across individually, these delicate flowers are showy because of their numbers as well as their setting lustrous evergreen foliage.