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A deciduous tree usually under 40 ft high in this country, but probably twice as high in warmer climates; young shoots more or less downy, often becoming quite glabrous. Leaves oval, 2 to 5 in. long, 1 to 2 in. wide, tapered at both ends, entire, dark polished green above, and glabrous except on the midrib, pale, somewhat glaucous, and with small scattered hairs beneath; stalk 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 in. long, downy. Trees unisexual; male flowers produced on very short, downy stalks one to three together, in the leaf-axils of the shoots of the year in July; female flowers solitary. Calyx large in both sexes, remaining attached to the base of the fruit, and growing larger with it; corolla pitcher-shaped, green suffused with red, 1⁄4 in. long. Fruit orange-shaped, ultimately 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 in. across, purplish or yellowish. Bot. Mag., n.s., t.696.
Native of China, whence it has several times been introduced; of the Himalaya; possibly also of Asia Minor. It was cultivated early in the 17th century in England, but has never become very common in gardens, although perfectly hardy. Fruits develop freely, but remain very astringent, and unfit for food. The trees emit a curious heavy odour, especially on damp days in autumn. It is due apparently to some exhalation from the leaves.
It is as a specimen rather than as a fruiting tree that this species should be judged and as such it ranks high, owing to its dark but lustrous green leaves, which contrast with the more common greens of the garden landscape. It has reached a height of 35 ft at Kew and 40 ft at Westonbirt.
There are seven examples of this species at Kew, seventy to one hundred years old and 3 to 4 ft in girth (1980). Other examples are: Westonbirt, Gloucestershire, 58 × 4 ft (1980); and Singleton Abbey, Swansea, 42 × 33⁄4 ft and 40 × 31⁄2 ft (1982).
Some young plants at Kew are seedlings collected by Fliegner and Simmons, growing under trees 80 to almost 100 ft high in the Elburz range of Iran, above the Caspian. In 1972 Mrs Ala and Roy Lancaster collected seeds in the same range and trees in the Hillier Arboretum and other collections are of this provenance.