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A tree said to attain a height of about 40 ft in the wild; branchlets hairy at least until autumn. Leaves oblong or oblong-ovate, up to 31⁄2 in. long and 11⁄2 in. wide, glossy above, downy on the veins beneath, doubly serrate; petioles villous or tomentose, up to 3⁄8 in. long. Fruiting catkins lax, to about 6 in. long; peduncles downy; bracts semi-ovate, obtuse, about 3⁄4 in. long, deeply toothed or lobulate on the broader side, the narrower side entire or faintly toothed, sometimes with an infolding at the base. Nutlets downy.
This species was described in 1899 from a specimen collected by Henry in Yunnan and is now in cultivation from seeds collected by Roy Lancaster near Kunming, also in Yunnan. Specimens identified as C. seemeniana were collected by Wilson in western Hupeh in 1907, but there is no record of his having introduced it, though he collected fruiting specimens. In the introduced form the leaves vary from obtuse through acute to acuminate at the apex and the young twigs bear rather sparse, long, spreading hairs. The leaves are bright bronze-red when young.
C. pubescens belongs to a group of east Asiatic hornbeams in which the fruit-involucres are markedly asymmetrical, the broader, outer side strongly toothed, the narrower, inner side almost entire, but varying in the presence or absence of a basal lobe or infolding on the narrower side. The marginal teeth of the leaves in this group are not prolonged into a slender point as they are in C. tschonoskii, which is essentially similar in its involucres. Some species in this group now in cultivation, or introduced in the past, are:
Tree to 17 m. Bark grey-brown. Branchlets dark brown, villous or glabrous. Leaves deciduous, 5–10 × 2–3.5 cm, shape extremely variable, from oblong to elliptic, upper surface glabrous, lower surface villous along the veins and with tufts of hair in the axils of the veins, 12–14 secondary veins on each side of the midvein, margins double-serrate, teeth minute and regular, apex acuminate; petiole sparsely pubescent or not, 0.4–1.5 cm long. Monoecious; staminate inflorescences catkin-like; pistillate inflorescences catkin-like, pedunculate, 5–7 × 1–2.5 cm, sparsely villous or glabrous. Flowers inconspicuous; bracts imbricate and ovate, 1–2.5 cm long, with five veins, margins slightly dentate to entire. Fruit a nutlet with dense pubescence (rarely glabrous) and prominent, longitudinal ribs. Flowering May to June, fruiting July to September (China). Rushforth 1985, Li & Skvortsov 1999. Distribution CHINA: Guizhou, Shaanxi, southern Sichuan, eastern Yunnan; VIETNAM: north. Habitat Montane forest and scrub on limestone, between 450 and 2000 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 7–8. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Li & Skvortsov 1999. Taxonomic note This variable species incorporates at least 14 species named by H.H. Hu, discounted by Flora of China (q.v. for list).
This widespread tree has been collected on numerous occasions in recent years, possibly the first introduction being from Roy Lancaster’s 1980 gathering (L 654) from c.2000 m in the Western Hills near Kunming (Rushforth 1985, Lancaster 1989). A seedling from this collection reached 3 m in 10 years, but failed to re-establish after transplantation (R. Lancaster, pers. comm. 2006). Lancaster (1989) notes that the young growth is a good coppery red, and Hudson (2004) mentions that the mature tree has a pleasing weeping habit. Despite these attractions and apparently suitable provenances, however, C. pubescens is rare in collections, the only ones seen for this work being at Howick where the largest is about 3.5 m. These individuals, originating from Yunnan via James Russell, showed some signs of damage after the long winter of 2005–2006 (C. Howick, pers. comm. 2006).