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Shrub or tree to c.18 m. Branchlets chestnut-coloured, turning yellowish brown to grey; lenticels absent. Leaves evergreen, 6.4–14.3 × 2–3.6 cm, lanceolate to elliptical, thick and leathery, upper surface glabrous, midrib depressed, lower surface glabrous and with a prominent midrib, 7–10 secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins finely serrate, apex acute or acuminate; petiole 1–2.3 cm long, glabrous. Inflorescences axillary, fasciculate. Flowers reddish pink, 4-merous, 0.4 cm diameter. Fruit fleshy, globose, red and 0.4–0.6 cm diameter, with four pyrenes. Flowering May to June, fruiting October (China). Andrews 1991, Galle 1997, Chen et al. 2006. Distribution BHUTAN; CHINA: Xizang (Chumbi Valley), northwestern Yunnan; INDIA: Sikkim; MYANMAR; NEPAL. Habitat Margins of both broadleaved and coniferous forests between 2100 and 3300 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 9. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Andrews 1991, 1997. Cross-reference B447.
Bean’s brief mention of Ilex hookeri (1981a) noted that it was rare in cultivation, and the situation does not seem to have changed much since that observation. The only current record of the species in TROBI is of an 8 m individual in the Ventnor Botanical Garden on the Isle of Wight, and it would seem to be distinctly tender. There is, however, a tree at Wakehurst Place, collected by Tony Schilling in mixed temperate forest on the Yallung Ridge, Nepal in 1981 (SCHL 2537). This was 2.1 m tall in 1996 (Kew database), but has since lost its main stem and is now producing shoots from its base up to 2 m tall (S. Andrews, pers. comm. 2007).
Plants previously grown by Hillier Nurseries in the United Kingdom have turned out to be I. dipyrena or I. kingiana. All three species have very spiny juvenile foliage and they are easily confused.