229 Photinea x fraseriCommon Names: red top, red tip, photina Family: Rosaceae (rose Family)
Long a traditional hedge shrub in the American South, red tip (Photinea x fraseri), also called red top, has distinctive foliage that is bright red when young. As it matures it passes through shades of reddish-copper eventually maturing to a rich dark green. The glossy leaves are finely serrated and arranged alternately on the stem. They are 3 in (7.6 cm) to 5.5 in (cm) inches in length and 1.5-2 in (3.1-5.1 cm) wide. The shrub typically grows 10-12 ft (3.1-3.7 m) in height but may reach 15 ft (4.6 m) if the situation is to its liking. Small white flowers appear in spring arranged in flat-domed, 5-7 in (12.7-17.8 cm) diameter clusters. They have an odor of hawthorne, which some people find objectionable. Nonetheless, they are handsome and contrast nicely with the new bronzy-red young leaves (as the flowers open, the leaves turn green).
The red tip (P. x fraseri) is a hybrid. It resembles a supersized version of one of its parents, the Japanese photinia (P. glabra) which is smaller in stature and leaf size. Japanese photinia blooms later in the season and forms red berries that ripen to black while red tip only occasionally produces a few red berries. The other parent is Chinese photinia (P. serrulata) which grows taller and has more leathery leaves that are bronze when young.
photinia x fraseri is a hybrid species whose parents are native to Japan (P. glabra) and China (P. serrulata). Once widely used as a landscape plant in the southern United States but usage is now in decline due to disease.
CultureExtremely tough and vigorous, red tip grows in almost any adequately drained soil (avoid soggy spots). It is not salt tolerant, but withstands intense heat. It needs some chilling in winter, and does not thrive in tropical conditions. It may be pruned to shape and control size anytime in spring or summer. Light: Sun to partial shade. Moisture: Water when dry for best look and healthy plants. Needs well drained soils. Somewhat drought tolerant once established. Hardiness: USDA Zones 7 - 9. Propagation: Cuttings of medium-ripe wood.
Red tip is used to create majestic tall hedges. Dense growth allows these to serve as effective barriers that are beautiful and functional. Red tip hedges can be left unpruned for "natural" look. They retain foliage to the ground and never become leggy. Red tip also tolerates shearing and can be trained into large formal hedges as well. Planted in a mixed shrub border, the red tip adds considerable interest with its contrasting red, bronze and green foliage. By pruning lower branches, individual shrubs can be trained into small trees.
The striking red coloration of abundant new foliage is redtip's claim to fame. A large healthy specimen in springtime when tipped in red is as impressive as many other shrubs in full bloom.
Shortly after I moved to Florida I encountered my first redtip and immediately fell in love. It was just after the holidays and I was impressed by the shrub's bright red buds. Against the rich green foliage they resembled the old fashioned (one-goes-out-they-all-go-out) Christmas tree lights. I was totally enchanted by this colorful creature and it was everywhere! Hedges, clipped and unclipped, outlined playgrounds and parking lots and backyards and boulevards. Then in the mid-eighties the redtips began to die en masse (see Warning). As a result red tip is no longer recommended for use in the southern US although it is still a desirable plant elsewhere in Zone 8.
This shrub is subject to entomosporium leaf spot, a fungus, which must be controlled or it will cause gradual thinning, defoliation, and death of the plant. Spray with fungicide at first sign of infestation and at 7-day intervals as long as signs of disease are present. Better yet, avoid planting this shrub in areas where it is affected. Because this devastating disease has become so widespread, some garden centers in affected parts of the southeastern United States are not selling this photinia.
Jack Scheper 08/15/97, updated 3/30/02, 4/25/04, 4/11/05