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Photinia and Aronia - Shrubs for Foliage, Flowers and Fruit

By Todd Boland (Todd_BolandApril 24, 2014
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It seems plant taxonomists are busy reclassifying many of our popular garden plants. The chokeberries, Aronia, are now considered a type of Photinia. This article will descibe the genus Photinia (including Aronia), a group of shrubs valued for their foliage, flowers, fruit and in some cases, fall foliage.

Gardening pictureMany of you may have noticed that there has recently been a number of scientific name changes among our popular landscape plants.  The common shrubby cinquefoil was once Potentilla fruticosa but is now called Dasiphora fruticosa.  The showy New York aster was once Aster novi-belgii but is now called Symphyotrichum novi-belgii.  In fact, there are no longer any native Aster in North America...all have been reclassified to new genera!  The group of woody shrubs I am about to describe fall into a similar situation.  The chokeberries were once classified as members of the genus Aronia.  They have recently been reclassified as Photinia.  Gardeners in mild climates will recognize Photinia as a group of mostly broad-leaved evergreens, popular for hedging.  While to our eyes the hardy Aronia are quite distinct from the more tender Photinia, but genetically, the two are quite similar, enough so that plant taxonomists consider them to be the same genus...for now!  So this article will describe the genus Photinia, with the inclusion of the now defunked genus Aronia.

The genus Photinia is a member of the Rose family, Rosaceae.  It now includes about 65 species.  All of the original Photinia (about 60 species) are native to eastern and southeastern Asia.  There was once a single species, Photinia arbutifolia, native to California, but this one was pulled out of the genus Photinia and placed in its own genus called Heteromeles.   The old genus Aronia contained only 3 species, all native to eastern North America.  As a group, they produce alternate elliptical leaves with finely serrated margins.  In spring, they produce clusters of 5-petalled, white flowers that later develop into red to purplish-black berries (botanically they are called pomes).  In the landscape they may be used in a mixed shrub border, as stand-alone specimens or, in the case of P. X fraseri and P. davidiana, as hedges.  Plants will tolerate full sun to part shade and prefer soil that is moderately moist and slightly acidic.  Plant heights and hardiness varies dramatically depending on the species.

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Photonia villosa

While there are many "Photinia" we only grown a few as garden ornamentals.  The hardiest of the original Photinia is the deciduous species P. villosa.  This one has spectacular fall colour in tones of fiery orange.  In spring it produces clusters of bright white flowers followed by an impressive display of red berries.  Plants reach 5 m in height.  It is rated hardy to zone 5.  Similar in appearance is P. beauverdiana which reaches to 10 m but is only hardy to zone 6. 

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Photinia beauverdiana, P. serrulata and P. X fraseri 'Pink Marble'

The other common ornamental Photinia are evergreens, all rated hardy to zone 7.  Their main claim to fame, are their bright red spring foliage (similar in appearance to Japanese Pieris).  Photinia glabra will reach 3-6 m.  Its white flowers develop into red berries that eventually turn black.  Photinia serrulata appears quite similar but can reach to 12 m.  Its berries are red.  The newer cultivar ‘Curly Fantasy' has attractive, wavy-margined leaves.  Perhaps the most popular is the hybrid between the two former species, called P. X fraseri.  This species is most popular as hedging.  There are several named selections which vary in heights, leaf size and duration of red spring foliage.  The most popular selections include ‘Red Robin', ‘Indian Princess', ‘Robusta' and ‘Rubens'.  Newer cultivars include ‘Poine du Raz', ‘Colwillow' and ‘Colango'.  If you prefer variegated foliage, then try ‘Pink Marble' whose spring leaves are edged pink on red but later become white on green. 

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Photinia X fraseri

Photinia davidiana was formerly Stranvaesia davidiana, but like Aronia, has recently been reclassified to belong with Photinia.  It is another evergreen species hardy to zone 7.  Its spring foliage is also reddish but it produces impressive displays of bright red berries.  ‘Fructo Luteo' is a yellow-fruited selection.  ‘Redstart' was a hybrid developed by crossing P. X fraseri ‘Robusta' to the yellow-fruited P. davidiana ‘Fructu Luteo'.  The hybrid has bright red spring leaves but the orange fruit are more noticeable than many of the P. X fraseri selections. 

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Photinia glabra

Lastly we come to the "Aronia".  There are three species of these hardy (zone 4), 2 m tall deciduous shrubs.  They differ primarily in their fruit colour but all produce wonderful fall colours in tones of orange and red.  Photinia pyrifolia (formerly Aronia arbutifolia) produces red berries. ‘Brilliant' is a selection with striking red fall foliage.  Photinia melanocarpa (formerly Aronia melanocarpa) produces black fruit.  ‘Autumn Magic' is a popular selection with better-than-average fall colour. ‘Eastland' and ‘Morton' are additional notable selections.  Finally we have P. floribunda (formerly Aronia X prunifolia).  This species produces purple fruit.  ‘Viking' is a named form with the best fall colours.

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Photinia (Aronia) melanocarpa 'Autumn Magic'

I would like to thank the following people for the use of their pictures: htop (P. serrulata), Jeff_Beck (P. X fraseri flower), Kauai (P. glabra flowers and foliage), Kell (P. X fraseri 'Pink Marble'), mgarr (P. villosa), palmbob (P. X fraseri foliage), tuzigoot (P. beauverdiana),

(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on October 1, 2010. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)


  About Todd Boland  
Todd BolandI reside in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. I work as a research horticulturist at the Memorial University of Newfoundland Botanical Garden. I am one of the founding members of the Newfoundland Wildflower Society and the current chair of the Newfoundland Rock Garden Society. My garden is quite small but I pack it tight! Outdoors I grow mostly alpines, bulbs and ericaceous shrubs. Indoors, my passion is orchids. When not in the garden, I'm out bird watching, a hobby that has gotten me to some lovely parts of the world.

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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
Aronia..Photinia horsefethers 2 19 May 6, 2014 10:33 PM
Thanks for the classification update RosemaryK 1 9 Apr 24, 2014 6:37 AM
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