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An evergreen tree probably 100 ft high, with horizontal branches; young shoots furnished with scurf which soon falls away leaving them smooth; winter-buds small, the basal scales with long, free, linear points. Leaves linear, 1 to 11⁄2 in. long, 1⁄12 to 1⁄5 in. wide, flat, pointed, broadest near the base, where they are abruptly narrowed to a short stalk, shining green on both sides, with twelve to sixteen stomatic lines beneath, forming a pale, faintly defined band each side the midrib, which is quite prominent on both surfaces. The leaves are arranged like those of many silver firs, being attached spirally, but twisted at the base so as to bring them into two opposite spreading sets; they persist five or more years. Cones erect, cylindrical, 4 to 6 in. long, stalked, purple when young, pale brown when ripe.
Native of China; introduced by Fortune in 1844, and extremely rare in cultivation. The finest tree in Europe was in Messrs Rovelli’s nursery at Pallanza, in Italy. I saw this tree in May 1912, when Mr Rovelli told me it was 85 ft high: its trunk was 2 ft 9 in. in diameter; many old cones were scattered beneath. Fortune described the wild trees as having the appearance of a cedar of Lebanon; the Pallanza tree, comparatively young, had very much the aspect of a silver fir.
The failure of K. fortunei to thrive in the British Isles is perhaps due to insufficient summer-heat rather than to any lack of hardiness. The largest specimens recorded are: Leonardslee, Sussex, 37 × 2 ft (1962); Wakehurst Place, Sussex, 39 × 23⁄4 ft and 30 × 13⁄4 ft (1971).
K. davidiana [Bertrand] Beissn. is another species native of W. China. It was introduced to Kew by Henry in 1889, and Wilson found it and introduced it again in 1908. The young shoots differ from those of K. fortunei in remaining downy for two years or more. According to Wilson’s specimens of adult plants, the leaves of cone-bearing or adult branches differ from those of K. fortunei in becoming blunt and conspicuously notched at the apex, and in having the midrib sunken above. The cone-scales are also more reflexed at the margin. Wilson found cones 8 in. long.
The two trees at Wakehurst Place, Sussex, mentioned in the first printing of the current edition, were subsequently identified by David Hunt of the Kew Herbarium as K. davidiana.
K. davidiana - specimens: Wakehurst Place, Sussex, 46 × 3 ft (1984) and 41 × 2 ft (1982); Leonardslee, Sussex, 40 × 23⁄4 ft (1984); National Botanic Garden, Glasnevin, Eire, 26 × 21⁄2 ft (1980); Headfort, Co. Meath, Eire, 30 × 5 ft (1980).
According to F. Flous, it is not only in this species that the leaves become blunt and notched on coning trees; they do so also in K. fortunei. The difference she gives is in the length of the leaves: 15 to 25 mm long in K. fortunei against 15 to 40 mm in K. davidiana; another difference adduced is that in the former the leaves have fifteen to twenty lines of stomata in each band beneath, against twelve to fifteen in the latter.
Plants under the name K. evelyniana Mast. are now in cultivation. This keteleeria, described in 1903 from a specimen collected in Yunnan, is recognised by Flous, according to whom it differs in having leaves with well-marked stomatiferous bands on the upper as well as the lower surface. It is, however, questionable whether it is any more than a state of K. fortunei.