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An evergreen tree already about 50 feet high in cultivation; bark almost smooth, grey; branchlets pendulous at the tip, glabrous. Leaves leathery oblong- or elliptic-lanceolate or oblanceolate to broadly oblanceolate, 31⁄2 to 61⁄2 in. long, 13⁄8 to 21⁄4 in. wide, acuminately tapered at the apex to a slender, often falcate tip, broadly cuneate at the base, margins serrate throughout; main lateral veins seven to eleven, making an angle of 50° to 70° with the midrib; leaf-stalk 3⁄8 to 3⁄4 in. long. Male inflorescence umbel-like or paniculate, the axis stout, 1⁄12 to 3⁄8 in. long, the branchlets often three-flowered; flowers on stalks, 1⁄8 in. or very slightly more long; petals four, oblong, about 1⁄8 in. long, united at the base. Female inflorescence of similar form to the male, but the axis elongating in the fruiting stage to a length of about 3⁄4 in. and the branchlets usually one-flowered; petals of female flowers broadly oblong, about 1⁄12 in. long, free; ovary globose-ovoid, with a four-lobed, disk-like stigma. Fruits red, globose, about 3⁄16 in. wide, with four nutlets, lined and grooved on the back.
I. cyrtura is now considered to be the correct name for a puzzling holly cultivated at Trewithen in Cornwall, where there is a group of seven trees of which one measures 51 × 31⁄2 ft (1971), the others being of about the same size as this. There can be little doubt that they were raised from seeds collected by Forrest in Yunnan or some adjacent area, but there is some doubt concerning the field-number under which the seeds were sent. They were originally grown under the name “I. forrestii” but are not the holly described by Comber under that name; they have also been incorrectly identified as I. ficoidea. In many respects they agree with I. melanotricha (q.v.), but that species has leaves narrower in proportion to their length, the base more narrowly cuneate, the margins less conspicuously toothed or almost entire, and the main lateral veins making a narrower angle with the midrib (about 45°).
Recently, however, material from Trewithen was examined by Dr Hu of the Arnold Arboretum, who identified it as I. cyrtura, a species described by Dr Merrill from a single specimen with female flowers collected by Kingdon Ward in the Adung Valley, Upper Burma. This is outside the area covered by Forrest’s botanical explorations, but I. subodorata Hu, a species very closely allied to I. cyrtura, and described in 1950, was found by him on the frontier between Burma and China in an area lying about 200 miles distant from the type-locality of I. cyrtura.
The Trewithen holly, as it might appropriately be called, has attained a greater height than any other exotic holly so far measured in British gardens, but is unlikely to thrive so well outside the milder and rainier parts of the country. A holly at Caerhays Castle, Cornwall, also probably belongs to I. cyrtura.
The above account is based on information kindly provided by Mr David Hunt of the Kew Herbarium, who concurs with Dr Hu’s identification. The description is a shortened version of one made by him from material collected off the trees at Trewithen and from his personal observations.
This species is figured in the Kew Magazine, Vol. 1 (3), pl. 13, with a further discussion by Susyn Andrews. She points out that there are plants in the open ground, received under various names, in the Savill Garden, Windsor Great Park; at Wakehurst Place, Sussex; in the Hillier Arboretum, Hampshire; and probably at Borde Hill, Sussex. So the species is less demanding than suggested, but certainly needs woodland conditions and an acid soil.