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An evergreen tree 30 to 40 or more ft high, of bushy habit, and, if allowed to develop without interference by other trees, wider than it is high; young shoots clad with flattened, grey down. Leaves leathery, opposite, narrow- to broad-elliptic, tapered at both ends; 2 to 5 in. long, 3⁄4 to 13⁄4 in. wide; dull grey-green covered densely on both surfaces with minute flattened hairs; stalk 1⁄4 to 3⁄4 in. long. Flowers minute, inconspicuous, crowded in a hemispherical mass 1⁄2 in. across. The beauty of the inflorescence is in the four or six sulphur-yellow bracts that subtend the true flowers; these are obovate, 11⁄2 to 2 in. long, 3⁄4 to 11⁄2 in. wide. Fruit a fleshy, strawberry-shaped, agglomerated crimson mass, 1 to 11⁄2 in. across, in which many seeds are imbedded. Bot. Mag., t. 4641.
Introduced from the Himalaya in 1825, and a native also of China. It is hopeless to attempt to grow this cornel unprotected near London, although it has lived many years against a wall at Kew, but rarely or never flowers there. One has to go to the Cornish gardens, or those of S.W. Ireland, to see this tree in its full splendour. The finest tree I have seen is at Fota, probably about 40 ft high, and 70 ft in diameter; but there are probably others in Cornwall quite as fine. When covered with pale yellow ‘flowers’, they provide one of the richest ornaments even those favoured gardens can display. In fruit, too, they are objects of great beauty, but often damaged by birds. The ‘flowers’ are at their best in June and July, and the fruits in October and November.
To the preceding, written in 1934, it may be added that the tree at Fota still exists; it is 36 ft high and the thickest of its many stems is 41⁄2 ft in girth (1966). According to the catalogue presented to Kew by the Hon. Mrs Bell, this tree was 20 ft high in 1856 and must therefore certainly date from the original introduction in 1825. At Mount Usher there are two specimens both 47 ft high and about 5 ft in girth. In Britain the easternmost garden where it is known to flourish is Highdown, near Worthing, where there is a tree 22 ft in height raised from Chinese seed imported in 1937. In the Edinburgh Botanic Garden there is a specimen of the same provenance, 14 ft high with a spread of 12 ft. Remarkably for a Himalayan species, C. capitata stands exposure to sea winds very well in the coastal gardens of the west and south-west.
Synonyms: C. capitata subsp. emeiensis (W.P. Fang & Y.T. Hsieh) Q.Y. Xiang, C. capitata subsp. brevipedunculata (W.P Fang & Y.T. Hsieh) Q.Y. Xiang
Shrub or tree to 20 m. Bark brown or greyish black. Branchlets grey-green, pubescent. Leaf buds exposed; floral buds exposed, subtended by four small, green bracts. Leaves evergreen, 5–12 × 2–4 cm, papery or leathery, elliptic to lanceolate, both surfaces grey-green, upper surface glabrous, lower surface densely pubescent with thick, white, appressed trichomes, three to four secondary veins on each side of the midvein, margins entire, apex acuminate to caudate; petiole 0.5–1 cm long, initially with white trichomes, later glabrous. Inflorescence terminal, globose cymes, to 1.2 cm diameter, composed of 50–100 flowers; floral bracts creamy yellow to whitish, sometimes with pink tinges, obovate (rarely orbicular), 3.5–6.2 × 1.5–5 cm. Flowers hermaphrodite, rather inconspicuous, with oblong petals to 0.4 cm long. Fruits syncarpous, resultant berry 1.5–2.5 cm diameter, flattened-globose, held on short, stout peduncle, purple-red at maturity, densely covered in white trichomes and with multiple stones. Flowering May to July, fruiting September to November (China). Gardener 1979, Xiang & Boufford 2005. Distribution BHUTAN; CHINA: Guizhou, Sichuan, Xizang, Yunnan; INDIA; MYANMAR; NEPAL. Habitat Deep shade in evergreen or mixed forest between 1000 and 3200 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 8–9. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration NT261. Cross-references B699, K368.
Cornus capitata was described by Bean (1976a), but in recent years there has been an influx of material ascribed to it – although on investigation much of this turns out to belong to other species (see C. elliptica, C. hongkongensis, below). Cornus capitata in its usual form with semi-evergreen foliage has been introduced repeatedly since 1825 and has traditionally been regarded as being too tender for cultivation outdoors in any but the mildest areas of coastal Europe (Bean 1976a). In recent years however it seems that material has been collected from colder provenances, and this, together with the assistance provided by the present warmer climate, has led to it being grown quite widely in the British Isles. Only plants with a track-record of hardiness should be propagated from. Hogan (2008) suggests that a clone called ‘Yoko’ is particularly hardy, but recommends ‘Mountain Moon’ as an especially fine cultivar, with ‘flowers’ 13–15 cm across, introduced in 1992 from Bhutan by Piroche Plants. Another good introduction is Ogisu 93333, from Leibo, Sichuan, with inflorescences up to 10 cm across, borne on thick peduncles to 8 cm long (A. Coombes, pers. comm. 2007).
The key character used by Flora of China (Xiang & Boufford 2005) to differentiate C. capitata and the related C. elliptica from the C. hongkongensis complex, the other evergreen members of Cornus subgenus Syncarpea in the Sinohimalaya, is the presence in C. capitata and C. elliptica of persistent short, grey or white hairs on the undersides of their leaves. These give the leaf both a pallid colour and a rough feel when rubbed with a finger. In C. hongkongensis the leaf underside is a dull green but not greyish, and is either glabrous or has deciduous hairs or tufts of hairs in the vein axils, depending on the subspecies in question, but the leaf undersides always feel smooth to the touch. This very simple test has important consequences for the identification of many cultivated dogwoods (see C. hongkongensis, below).