The vibrant spring is here! Loropetalum chinense has endured the winter and is now blooming with unique snowy white flowers. Viewed from a distance, the flowers are reminiscent of ribbons or paper straps, which give rise to its common name – Strap Flower. It isn’t surprising that people would liken the flowers to bravura dancers giving an elegant performance!
Loropetalum chinense, a native shrub or small tree in Hong Kong, belongs to the Family Hamamelidaceae and is widely distributed in southern China as well as Japan and India. The leaves are small and ovate, with hairs on both upper and lower surfaces. Dazzling white flowers blossom from March to April, after which fruiting begins in May. The fruit grows from the top of the floral cup, somewhat resemgling a wine glass. The whole fruit looks very special!
The plant is best distinguished by its flowers. The linear, snowy white petals make them exceptionally classy! Upon closer observation, you will find that what you think is a single flower is in fact a cluster of three to eight flowers supported by a short spike. Each flower is formed by four fine ribbon-like petals, and even tinier filaments in the middle.
Aside from the beautiful appearance, the plant excels in “inner wisdom”. It can make physiological adjustments in response to environmental changes. “Biomass” refers to a fundamental quantity at a specific time and area. Strap Flower is able to allocate biomass in accordance with the environment. Research has shown that when the canopies of nearby shrubs keep growing and block its sunlight, more biomass will be allocated to the leaves and stem to absorb extra sunlight. When the tree leans towards one side in its habitat, it will allocate more biomass to the root system, to stabilise the tree and avoid collapse.
Strap Flower is uncommon in Hong Kong. However, many may have encountered a variation of the species: Red Strap Flower (Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum) – a breed originating from artificial cultivation. As its name suggests, the flowers are red. The species grow rapidly and is rather resistant to pests and diseases. It is widely used in gardening and landscaping, as it is most suitable for building fences.