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Shrub or tree, 3–10 m. Bark pale grey to greyish brown. Branchlets slender. Leaves alternate, or more densely placed at branchlet ends, leathery, 5–15 × 1.5–4.5 cm, lanceolate, oblanceolate or obovate-elliptic, base narrowly cuneate, apex caudate to acuminate; midrib slightly prominent below, slightly impressed above, reticulate veins inconspicuous; petiole 0.7–1.5 cm, slender. Flowers axillary or subterminal, solitary or in fascicles of two or three, borne on peduncles 1.5–5 cm; perianth segments 10–15, fleshy, red to dark red, the largest 8–13 × 6–8 mm; stamens 6–11; follicles 10–14, 2.8–3.9 mm long at flowering. Fruiting peduncle to 6(–8) cm; follicetum 3.4–4 cm diameter; follicles 14–21 × 5–9 × 3–5 mm, apex with a recurved 3–7 mm hooked beak. Flowering April to June, fruiting August to October (China). Yuhu et al. 2008. Distribution CHINA: Anhui, Fujian, Guizhou, Hubei, Hunan, southern Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Zhejiang. Habitat Mixed forests, thickets, between 300 and 1500 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 7b. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration NT407, NT407.
Illicium lanceolatum is commercially available in the United States, but is apparently still quite scarce. It seems to have considerable garden potential as an attractive flowering shrub or small tree, but has not been fully tested yet. Plants at the JC Raulston Arboretum have been growing steadily since 1997, the largest 1.8 m in 2005 (JC Raulston Arboretum database). In the United Kingdom one that has been growing at Spinners, Hampshire for several years is now flowering (A. Coombes, pers. comm. 2008).