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Large shrub or small tree 1.5–10 m; crown densely branched. Branchlets glabrous or slightly pubescent, greyish brown and without lenticels. Leaves evergreen, retained for up to four years, 2.5–6 × 1.5–3.5 cm, ovate to oblong, thick and leathery, upper surface glossy, lower surface opaque and glaucous, four to six secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins sinuate with three to four spines on each side, apex acuminate; petiole pubescent, 0.3 cm long. Inflorescences axillary, fasciculate. Flowers creamy white to white, 2–4-merous and 0.3–0.4 cm diameter; staminate flowers with partially fused petals, stamens longer than the petals; pistillate flowers with free petals and short staminodes. Fruit fleshy, ellipsoid to spherical, red and 0.7–1 cm diameter, with one to two (to four) pyrenes. Flowering April to May, fruiting July to October (China). Hu 1949b, Lu 1993a, Galle 1997, Chen et al. 2006. Distribution CHINA: Guizhou, southwestern Hebei, southwestern Hubei, Hunan, Sichuan, Yunnan; MYANMAR; TAIWAN. Habitat Evergreen broadleaved forest between 900 and 4000 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 6–7. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Phillips & Rix 1989, Lu 1993a, Andrews 1997, Galle 1997; NT394. Cross-references B451 (as I. pernyi var. veitchii), K178. Taxonomic note Ilex bioritsensis is sometimes cultivated under the name I. ficoidea Hemsl., especially in the United States. True I. ficoidea is not known to be in cultivation.
Ilex bioritsensis has been in cultivation since it was introduced by E.H. Wilson from his early expedition for the Veitch nurseries (Wilson 803 ex Hort. Veitch). It was then known as I. pernyi var. veitchii, under which name references will be found in older literature. There is indeed a strong similarity between I. bioritsensis and I. pernyi, but the latter is a much stiffer-looking plant with stronger marginal spines on its leaves, and has four pyrenes (rather than two as in I. bioritsensis). Ilex bioritsensis is an attractive holly, sometimes shrubby but capable of forming a single-trunked tree with a tidy shape when young, though somewhat loose and straggly when older. There is a specimen at Wakehurst Place, of about 4 m when seen in June 2005, grown from SICH 1192, collected by the Fliegner, Howick, McNamara & Staniforth team in October 1992 at c.2460 m in Zhaojue Co., Sichuan. Here it grew as a 2 m shrub, in an open situation on a steep north-facing slope amongst an interesting assortment of broadleaved woody plants. SICH 1144 was gathered by the same expedition from an 8 m tree growing at 2770 m in Muli Co. In 1985 it was collected by the Simmons, Fliegner & Russell expedition to Guizhou (GUIZ 85). There are numerous plants from these collections at Kew. At Wakehurst Place there is also an older plant, of unknown planting date, derived from the early introductions, which was 11 m in 2005 and producing many suckers from the base (TROBI). The species is widely cultivated in western Europe and there is a particularly large, broad-canopied specimen at Arboretum Bokrijk, Genk, Belgium. This has three trunks, the largest of which is 50 cm dbh, although the tree itself is only 7 m tall (J. Van Meulder, pers. comm. 2007). In North America it has proven to be hardy and heat-tolerant, being successful on the West Coast and in the eastern and southeastern parts of the United States, and is considered to be a resilient species for any conditions so long as the soil is well drained (Wharton et al. 2005).