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Tree to 25 m. Branchlets robust, glabrous or minutely pubescent. Leaf buds covered with silky hairs. Leaves evergreen, simple, 6–11(–17) × 3–6 cm, papery or leathery, ovate, elliptic, or lanceolate, both surfaces covered with silky grey hairs, lower surface with prominent veins and black glandular spots, six to eight secondary veins on each side of the midvein, margins sparsely dentate, apex acute or acuminate; petiole 3–6 cm long, initially pubescent, later glabrous. Inflorescences axillary; racemes 3–6 cm long, bearing 5–12 flowers. Flowers polygamous, 5– or 6-merous and to 0.5 cm long; petals pubescent, entire or incised, stamens 15. Fruit a shiny ellipsoid drupe, 1–1.3 × 0.8 cm; endocarp containing a single seed. Flowering April to May, fruiting May to July (China). Tang & Chamlong 2005. Distribution CHINA: Anhui, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Sichuan, Yunnan, Zhejiang; JAPAN; TAIWAN; VIETNAM. Habitat Evergreen forest between 400 and 2800 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 8b–9. Conservation status Not evaluated.
Research in Taiwan has demonstrated that maximum germination of Elaeocarpus japonicus seed (still only approx. 40 per cent) occurs after a minimum stratification period of four months at 4 ºC (Yang et al. 2001); similar conditions are probably valid for other temperate species of Elaeocarpus. It also suggests that it is subject to low temperatures in the wild, despite its southerly origins, and should therefore be amenable to cultivation in a warm, sheltered site. It is not known to be in cultivation in Europe, but it is established in North America (for example, at the San Francisco Botanical Garden). At Cistus Nursery it has achieved 2.5 m in three years; while it has so far withstood –6 ºC there, lower temperatures will defoliate it (S. Hogan, pers. comm. 2007). It would be useful to seek out material from its coldest provenances, as its glossy, long-tipped leaves flush bronze-red, making this a very attractive evergreen tree, that could be planted more widely if hardier stocks were available.