Indian Hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica)

Indian Hawthorn

Indian hawthorn (Rhaphiolepsis indica) is a small, slow-growing shrub perfect for sunny locations. It’s easy to care for because it keeps a neat, rounded shape naturally, without the need for pruning. The shrub looks great year-round and becomes a focal point in spring when large, loose clusters of fragrant, pink or white flowers bloom. The flowers are followed by small blue berries that attract wildlife. Read on to find out how to grow Indian hawthorn.

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

Rhaphiolepis indica, the Indian hawthorn, Indian hawthorn or Hong Kong hawthorn is an evergreen shrub in the family Rosaceae. 

It is found on slopes, roadsides, bushes on the sides of streams; at an altitude of 700–1600 meters above sea level in areas such as, southern China, Japan, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.

They are shrubs or small trees, which rarely reach a size of 4 m in height. The branches are purple brown when young, greyish brown when old, cylindrical, initially brown tomentose, glabrous in old age. Petiole 0.5–1.8 cm or almost absent, slightly brown or tomentose, subglabrous; stipules deciduous, lanceolate, little brown tomentose, acuminate apex; ovate blade blade, oblong, rarely obovate, oblong-lanceolate, narrowly elliptical or elliptical-lanceolate, (2–) 4–8 × 1.5–4 cm, coriaceous, abaxially prominent veins, abaxially visible reticular veins and visible or non-adaxially, back pale, glabrous or scarcely tomentose, shiny adaxially, glabrous, the apex obtuse, acute acuminate.

The inflorescences in panicles or terminal of clusters, with many or few flowers; pedicels and peduncles rusty-tomentose; bracts and deciduous bracteoles. Flowers 1–1.5 cm in diameter. The petals white or pink, obovate or lanceolate, 5–7 × 4–5 mm, pubescent basal, obtuse apex. Stamens 15, as long or shorter than the petals.

II. How to Grow and Care

Sunlight

This shrub does best in full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days. However, it can tolerate light shade, though it will be healthier and flower better with full sun.

Temperature and Humidity

This shrub thrives in warm climates with mild winters. It’s been known to tolerate temperatures down to 5 degrees Fahrenheit, but the prolonged cold can damage the foliage and even kill the plant. On the warm end, the shrub can handle temperatures well into the 90s. It prefers a moderate amount of humidity.

Watering

A newly planted shrub will need evenly moist soil until the plant is well established. This young plant prefers moist but not soggy soil. Established Indian Hawthorn shrubs have some tolerance for drought. It is better to water this shrub with a good soaking of water when the soil is dry rather than the frequent quick watering. Wilting of the stems and leaves is a signal that the shrub needs a drink. Water at the base of the plant, avoiding the foliage.

Soil

Indian hawthorn can tolerate many soil types as long as there is good drainage. Soggy soil can cause root rot on the shrub. Moreover, it prefers a soil pH that’s slightly acidic to slightly alkaline. 

Fertilizing

Indian Hawthorn shrubs are light feeders and do not require regular fertilization. This shrub will benefit from a spring time feeding to support new emerging growth. An application of all purpose slow-release fertilizer will encourage dark green foliage. Another option is to mix compost into the soil. Water well after any application of fertilizer.

Planting Instructions

Indian hawthorn is primarily propagated by cuttings. So, once a cutting has developed roots and new growth, it is ready for transplanting to its permanent spot. Space plantings 18 to 24 inches apart to accommodate its expected growth. Plant the transplant in the hole, covering the soil to the same level on the stem as its former container. Mulch over the top and water deeply.

Do not plant it in a shady spot. It will get scraggly, losing its compact growth habit as it grows out searching for the sun. It can tolerate afternoon shade as long as it has full sun for most of the day. Also, it can handle most soil types, but if the soil is clay or sand, mix in some compost to enrich it, encouraging healthy growth.

Pruning

Indian Hawthorn shrubs grow in a naturally mounding habit and usually do not need routine pruning. You can lightly prune to remove any damaged, diseased or dead stems throughout the growing season. If you choose to drastically cut the shrub, do this just after the spring bloom cycle. Do not prune two months prior to the first frost as this can encourage new growth that may be damaged from cold temperatures.

Propagation

The standard method for Indian hawthorn propagation in the nursery trade is from rooting semi-hardwood cuttings (stems that are already firm but still young enough to bend easily and snap when broken) in midsummer. Here’s how to do it:

  • Choose a vigorous branch 4 to 6 inches long with a few nodes. Remove leaves from the lower third of the cutting.
  • Dip the stem in rooting hormone. Plant the cutting in a damp mixture of potting mix.
  • Keep the pot in a location with bright indirect light and water regularly. The roots begin to form in about 10 weeks.

Potting and Repotting 

If you’re planting Indian hawthorn in a container, use a pot with ample drainage holes and a loose potting mix to ensure good drainage. For the container to accommodate the shrub for two to three years before repotting it, choose one with a diameter of at least 6 inches larger than the root ball of your plant. 

When the plant starts to outgrow its container, choose the next container size and replant it in a fresh potting mix. The best time for repotting is usually in the spring before the temperatures get hot, approximately 60 F.

Overwintering

Indian Hawthorn shrubs are an evergreen plant which means that the dark green foliage will remain on the branches all winter long. Hardy in USDA zones 8-11, during extremely cold spells, some precautions need to be taken. Do not fertilize in the fall as new growth can be damaged with cold temperatures. Water well in the fall and cover the base with mulch to preserve moisture and conserve heat. Do not prune what seems to be dead stems until the spring. These stems may bounce back in the spring and produce new foliage.

Pests and Diseases

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Indian hawthorns are susceptible to insect pests, including aphids, nematodes, and scale. Watch out for leaf damage or discoloration, and use an organic neem oil spray to combat any infestation.

These shrubs are also vulnerable to fungal diseases, particularly entomosporium leaf spot, which can cause leaf damage and loss. This fungus is most common during rainy spring and fall seasons. Prevent such diseases by keeping the foliage dry and ensuring good air circulation.

Common Problems

Indian hawthorn is usually easy to care for but is susceptible to environmental issues like plunging temperatures and unseasonably rainy spring and fall seasons. Such conditions can cause damage and disease that can kill the plant.

Cold Damage

Indian hawthorns are sensitive to cold damage and should be placed in protected areas or wrapped in the event of a cold snap. Indian hawthorn is prone to injury from the cold if temperatures drop below 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, mulch helps insulate the roots.

Cold damage can cause browning or blackening of leaves, split bark, cracks along the trunk, and drying out. Severe damage can kill the plant. Evaluate any damage in the spring. Remove dead or dying branches to make way for new growth.

Leaf Drop

Indian hawthorns are evergreens, so they don’t lose their leaves in the fall, but if you notice the plant suddenly defoliating, it could be leaf spot disease. This fungal disease starts as small brown spots that lead to large blotches, eventually causing leaf drop. It is one of the main reasons for health problems with this plant. This is such a widespread problem that many cultivars have been developed to be resistant to leaf spot disease.

Moist conditions lead to the cultivation and spread of the fungus that causes this condition. To prevent it, space your Indian hawthorn far apart to improve air circulation and use drip watering instead of overhead watering. If your plant has this fungal infection, use an antifungal spray from spring until June and again in the fall. Bag and discard the fallen and diseased leaves.

III. Uses and Benefits 

It is grown for its decorative pink or white flowers, and is popular in bonsai culture. The fruit is edible when cooked, and can be used to make jam.

Indian hawthorn is a mainstay horticultural specimen in the southern United States. It is often found in commercial as well as in private landscapes. Often it is trimmed into small compact hedges or balls for foundation plants. It has been successfully pruned into a standard form as well as small dwarf-like trees up to 15 feet in height.

  • Dyeing

The plant is also known as “teechigi” and its pulp is known as “sharinbai” (しゃりんばい / テーチ木 / テカチ木) in Japan and a dark brown dye is made by boiling its dried bark or root and using iron or lime water as a mordant. This plant has been used in Japan for over 400 years in a technique for making pongo silk fabrics. In the Kainan islands in China it is used to make shima-tsumugi textiles and some fishing nets. 

Additionally, the plant is used in a Japanese mud dyeing technique known as dorozome from the Amami Islands. In dorozome, branches are chopped into small chips and simmered in large cauldrons for two days. The pulp is then filtered out and yarn is steeped in the golden-orange extract. The more the yarn is dipped and dried, the darker and richer the color is.

Indian Hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica) Details

Common name Indian Hawthorn
Botanical name Rhaphiolepis indica
Plant type Shrub
Hardiness zone 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b, 10a, 10b
Growth rate Fast
Harvest time Fall
Height 4 ft. 0 in. - 6 ft. 0 in.
Width 4 ft. 0 in. - 6 ft. 0 in.
Sunlight Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
Soil condition Clay
Flower color Pink
Leaf color Brown/Copper