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Shrub or small tree to 7 m. Branchlets pubescent and slightly wrinkled with small, sparse lenticels. Leaves evergreen, (5–)7–9(–11) × (1.5–)2–3(–4) cm, oblong to elliptical-lanceolate, thin and leathery, upper surface somewhat pubescent, lower surface glabrous, midribs impressed, seven to nine secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins entire in the lower half of the leaf, crenulate to serrate in the upper half, apex acuminate; petiole 0.5–1.2 cm long. Inflorescences fasciculate, axillary and somewhat pubescent. Flowers yellowish green, (4–)5-merous, 0.3–0.4 cm diameter. Fruit fleshy, globose, red and 0.3–0.5 cm diameter, with five to seven pyrenes. Flowering June to July, fruiting September to November (China). Galle 1997, Chen et al. 2006. Distribution CHINA: western Sichuan, Xizang, Yunnan; endemic to the parallel valleys of the Mekong, Salween and Yangtze Rivers. Habitat Evergreen and deciduous broadleaved forest between 1800 and 2900(–3500) m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 8–9. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Chen & Feng 1999. Cross-reference B439. Taxonomic note Specimens with glabrous branches have been distinguished as var. glabra S.Y. Hu.
Ilex forrestii has been in cultivation since its introduction by George Forrest but has remained scarce, with no large specimens recorded. It is possible that trees derived from this source may be found in British or Irish gardens. More recently, it has been collected in Yunnan by the Gaoligong Shan Expedition of 1996, under the number GSE 96. Young plants from this collection are growing at Edinburgh. They have elegant narrow leaves with a long ‘drip-tip’.
In the early 1970s holly seedlings were distributed from the Morris Arboretum as I. forrestii but these have since been confirmed as examples of I. ×attenuata (I. opaca I. cassine). Among them is a tree with red fruits at the Washington Park Arboretum, described as I. forrestii by Omar (1994) but identified as I. ×ttenuata by Susyn Andrews (pers. comm. 2007). Another, at Longwood Gardens, Pennsylvania, has yellow fruits. When this too was found to be the hybrid, records at the Morris Arboretum were checked and it was found that the seed had indeed been collected from I. ×ttenuata ‘Fosteri’: a typist’s error had transmogrified it to I. forrestii. This yellow-berried clone is now called I. ×attenuata ‘Longwood Gold’ (Longwood Gardens 2008). The identity of any tree in the United States labelled I. forrestii should be checked.