Shrub 1–3 m tall, much branched. Bark dark brown and peeling off in the third and fourth year. Twigs puberulous. Leaf petiole 2–6 mm, puberulous, winged in upper part; leaf blade elliptic or obovate, 1.5–3 × 1–1.2 cm, thinly papery, abaxially puberulous, adaxially glabrous, midvein raised abaxially, inconspicuous adaxially, secondary and fine veins slightly distinct abaxially, inconspicuous adaxially, base cuneate, margin serrulate, apex acuminate, mucronate. Flowers solitary, rarely in pairs, axillary. Pedicel flattened, c. 1 cm, puberulous. Calyx glabrous; lobes ovate, 1–1.5 mm, apex acute. Corolla yellow with red stripes, or red, urceolate, 8–10 mm; lobes usually reflexed, short. Stamens half the length of the corolla. Filaments 2–2.5mm long, pubescent, dilated at base. Ovary glabrous or puberulous; style glabrous. Capsule 3–5 mm; stalk distinctly recurved, c. 1 cm, slender. Flowering May, fruiting June – October. (Wilson 1907, Ruizheng & Stevens 2005).
Distribution Myanmar China Sichuan, Yunnan India Arunachal Pradesh
Habitat Alpine thickets, humus-clad cliffs on mountains; 3000–3700 m asl.
Wilson discovered Enkianthus pauciflorus during his second expedition to China on behalf of Messrs. Veitch (1903–1905) when he extensively explored Wa Shan, located in Sichuan’s Hengduan Mountains. He encountered this species at c. 3050–3350 m asl; his collection W 3913 collected 1 July 1903 would serve as the type specimen when he later described this species in the Gardener’s Chronicle (Wilson 1907). Along with the description he provides a few notes indicating the close relationship this species shares with E. deflexus, but notes that the two are readily distinguished from each other: “The single-flowered character is seldom departed from, but two flowers do occasionally arise from the same axis”. He goes on to say that “as a garden plant” it is “the least valuable” of the genus (Wilson 1907).
Wilson’s admonition regarding the garden worth of this taxon was, as accurate as it may be, likely based only on his seeing plants in the wild, as there is no evidence that the species was successfully established in cultivation from his collections. More recently Dick Fulcher collected material of an Enkianthus in Arunachal Pradesh. He gave seed to Barry Starling anotheer plantsman from Devon, UK, who later sent material to Edinburgh for identification; they confirmed it as E. pauciflorus. Plants have been distributed by Starling but none have been traced in the preparation of this account. Seed was offered in the Rhododendron, Camellia & Magnolia Group group seed list from a cultivated plant grown by Barry Starling in 2021, no. 21163 (R. White pers. comm. 2023).