Photinias are popular ornamental shrubs, and within the genus, Photinia × fraseri ‘Red Robin’ is the most famous.
A hybrid, it combines the size (up to about 5 meters) of Photinia serratifolia (Chinese photinia ) with the general appearance and red young leaves of Photinia glabra (Japanese photinia). It is thought that the first Photinia × fraseri arose as a chance seedling at the Fraser Nurseries in Birmingham, Alabama. ‘Red Robin’ has particularly red, shiny young foliage, and has received the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. It is often used as a hedge species, and can be clipped into a formal hedge or allowed to maintain its bushy form. Photinia × fraseri was commonly used in the American south, but since the 1980s, southern specimens have been under attack by a fungus, entomosporium leaf spot. Sadly, due to this fungus, Photinia × fraseri is not nearly as common in American south landscapes as it once was.
Photinia × fraseri ‘Red Robin’ has leaves that emerge red, then slowly turn to a dark, glossy green. The red colour is the result of a common plant pigment, anthocyanin, that is present in new Photinia growth. According to an article in Plant Science (Oren-Shamir, 2009), the presence of anthocyanin in plants is fairly common, and it may be acting as a sunscreen and antioxidant for the young, tender leaves. As new Photinia leaves mature and develop protective, light-reflecting waxes, they no longer need the protection of the anthocyanin. The pigment is then diluted and broken down, to the point where there is no detectable amount left in mature leaves. The shiny quality of mature leaves not only negates the need for red pigment, it also leads to the name for this genus: photeinos means ‘shiny’ in Greek.