Gaultheria trichophylla Royle
A low shrub of densely tufted habit 3 to 6 in. high, spreading by means of underground shoots; stems wiry and slender, clad with spreading bristly hairs and furnished with twelve or more leaves to the inch. Leaves stalkless, elliptic-oblong or elliptic-lanceolate, 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 in. long, 1⁄8 to 1⁄4 in. wide, glabrous on both surfaces, but bristly on the margins, glossy dark green above, paler beneath. Flowers solitary in the leaf-axils; corollas pink, 1⁄6 in. long and wide, bell-shaped; anther-cells each with one awn. Fruits blue, occasionally purplish red, broadly ovoid, 3⁄8 to 1⁄2 in. long. Bot. Mag., t. 7635.
Native of the Himalaya from Kashmir eastward, S.E. Tibet, Upper Burma, S.W. and W. China, ascending in the Himalaya to 13,000 ft. It was introduced to Kew in 1897, but there have been numerous reintroductions since then from various parts of its range. The lovely blue fruits have been likened to thrushes’ eggs, but in many gardens they are produced sparsely or not at all.
The following are closely allied to G. tricbophylla:
G. sinensis Anthony – Leaves elliptic-oblong or oblong-obovate, 1⁄2 in. or slightly more long and about one-third as wide, mostly acute at the apex, glossy and of leathery texture, hairy on the midrib beneath, margins glabrous. Flowers urn-shaped. Fruits blue-pink or white, globular or fig-shaped. This species was found by Forrest in Yunnan and extends westward to the Assam Himalaya. The date of first introduction is not known but probably most of the plants in cultivation derive from seeds collected by Kingdon Ward on the frontier between Burma and Assam under KW 8562. The herbarium specimen under this number is referred to G. hypochlora Airy Shaw, which is part of G. sinensis as understood by Anthony, but differs from the type of that species in the less leathery, relatively wider leaves (about half as wide as long), rounded at the apex. This is also true of at least some of the cultivated plants raised from KW 8562 but it is preferable to leave them under G. sinensis until the taxonomy of this group is better understood.
G. thymifolia Stapf ex Airy Shaw G. thibetica Hort. – Leaves shorter than in G. trichophylla, mostly less than 3⁄8 in. long, and narrower, linear-oblong or widest in the upper half and tapered to the base, with almost glabrous margins. Fruits violet-blue, rosy-red, or white. This species was described from a flowering specimen collected by Forrest on the Yunnan-Burma border and came into cultivation in the 1930s under the unpublished name G. ibibetica, probably raised from seeds collected by Kingdon Ward in 1926 under KW 6849. The field number KW 6845 under which the plants were distributed is certainly incorrect. Seeds of a white-fruited form were sent by the same collector under KW 9639.