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Tree to 15 m. Branchlets blackish brown, slightly pubescent to glabrous. Leaf buds covered in silky hairs. Leaves evergreen, simple, 7–13.5 × 2–4 cm, leathery or thick and papery, oblanceolate, glabrous, upper surface with conspicuous veinlets, lower surface with conspicuous major veins, seven to nine secondary veins on each side of the midvein, glands in the axils of the lateral veins present (var. changii) or absent (var. decipiens), margins minutely serrate, apex acuminate; petiole 1–2 cm long, leaf base forming a narrow wing. Inflorescences in axils of fallen leaves; racemes 5–10 cm long, bearing 8–30 flowers. Flowers white and fragrant, hermaphrodite, 5-merous and to 0.6 cm long; upper half of petals incised, stamens up to 32. Fruit a black ellipsoid drupe, 2–3.5 × 1.5–2 cm; endocarp sculptured, containing one seed. Flowering June to July, fruiting November to January (China). Tang & Chamlong 2005. Distribution CHINA: Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hunan, Jiangxi, Yunnan, Zhejiang; JAPAN; TAIWAN; VIETNAM. Habitat Evergreen forest between 400 and 2400 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone (7–)8. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration NT318.
Elaeocarpus decipiens is probably the most commonly cultivated species of this genus, relatively frequently grown in the warmer parts of the United States for its dense covering of glossy, evergreen leaves, flushing bronze in spring and senescing to a bright red. It can make a large, broad-crowned tree, but can also be pruned to form hedges or other clipped features. The fragrant flowers are white, borne on long racemes, and suggest a Pieris in flower. The blue-black berries that follow them are ornamental but not spectacular. Unlike other species languishing in the realm of enthusiasts, E. decipiens has been introduced to the mainstream horticultural trade by Monrovia, both as a normal-sized clone sold in its Shogun Series (evergreen Japanese trees), and as a more compact cultivar, ‘MonProud’, marketed as Little Emperor, said to achieve no more than 5 m in maturity (Monrovia 2004–2008). It has also been introduced by Piroche Plants. It will perform best when planted in a sheltered sunny site, in fertile and reasonably moist soil. When established in a suitable site it is tolerant of temperatures of –10ºC without harm, and in still conditions it can tolerate even harder frosts, but it is susceptible to damage in strong freezing wind (Hogan 2008). Late frosts can cause damage to new shoots, and it is said to be intolerant of alkaline soils (Arnold 2005).