Evergreen shrub or small tree to 5 m. Bark grey-brown. Young branchlets blue-green, hairy at first, sometimes with dense, yellow, silky hairs. Terminal buds narrowly elliptic. Leaves trinerved; blade leathery, variably shaped, ovate, elliptic, or lanceolate, 2.7–7 × 1.3–4 cm, with dense brown hairs beneath at first; base rounded; margin entire; apex acuminate or caudate-acuminate; petiole 0.5–1 cm, brown-pubescent at first. Umbels in groups of 6–8, sessile on short (1–2) mm branchlets, each umbel with a bract and about 7 flowers. Flowers yellowish green, tepals 6, with soft, white hair outside, glabrous inside; male flowers with 9 fertile stamens; female flowers with nine staminodes and a capitate stigma. Fruit ellipsoidal, reddish brown to black, 0.8–1 × 0.4–0.7 cm. Flowering October–April (Taiwan), fruiting May–November (Taiwan). (Cui & van der Werff 2008; Grimshaw & Bayton 2009).
Distribution China Anhui, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hainan, Hunan, Jiangxi, Zhejiang Philippines Vietnam Taiwan
Habitat Sunny mountain slopes, valleys, sparse forests and thickets; 200–1000 m.
USDA Hardiness Zone 7-9
RHS Hardiness Rating H4
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
Lindera aggregata is a small evergreen tree or large shrub grown mainly for foliage effect. Although grown in the West for 200 years, it remains rare.
Among the species we describe with tri- or triplinerved evergreen leaves, L. aggregata most resembles L. floribunda and L. pulcherrima. They are probably closely related, and have been confused over the years. All three have rather rounded leaves of the sort of shape in which even quite minor variation in outline could lead to them being classed as ovate, obovate or elliptic; all have acuminate to caudate leaf apices. L. pulcherrima has white rather than golden hairs on the young shoots and leaf undersides, while L. floribunda seems poorly known. L. fragrans and L. tonkinensis have proportionately narrower leaves, tending rather more towards lanceolate (Cui & van der Werff 2008; Chinese Academy of Sciences 2023).
Foliage is the main ornamental feature. The leaves are glossy green above and glaucous beneath, covered with golden silky hairs when young. To show off their beauty the plant should be placed where it receives sun for at least part of the day – preferably in the evening, so that light can be reflected off the undersides of the leaves; training it up into a low standard would also help (Grimshaw & Bayton 2009). Raulston (1993) highlighted its ‘very dense growth and dark green foliage which highlights the showy yellow flowers in spring’; Dirr (2009) placed it among his favourites for foliage. The fragrant flowers are particularly attractive in males, as in other linderas (S. Hogan, pers. comm. 2007). They are held in tight clusters about 1 cm across, the feature which inspired the specific name (Sims 1824), although with our present-day knowledge of a wide range of other species this does not appear at all remarkable. Fruits add to the ornamental effect in female plants. In garden stocks they seem to be black (Grimshaw & Bayton 2009) while Flora of China (Cui & van der Werff 2008) ventures no opinion, perhaps wisely in a herbarium-based study. The huge range of digital images on the Plantplus website (Chinese Academy of Sciences 2023) shows red- as well as black-fruited plants, which appear similar in leaf.
The roots, which are tuberous for part of their length, are much used in traditional medicine; as usual there are numerous studies on their chemistry and possible drug potential. One recent study highlights how advanced this field has become. Knowing that tubers rather than tap-root, and some provenances, are believed to yield higher quality medicine, Li et al. (2022) used infrared hyperspectral imaging coupled with machine learning algorithms to develop a system which quite accurately determines geographical and morphological origin of a sample.
Lindera aggregata was one of the earlier Asiatic linderas to be described scientifically (as a Laurus), by Sims (1824) from a plant cultivated in London. It had been sent from China in 1821 on the tea clipper Orwell by naturalist and tea inspector John Reeves, to the Horticultural Society of London, where it flowered in their Kensington experimental garden (Sims 1824). Kostermans (1974) recognised that this was not only a Lindera, but conspecific with L. strychnifolia, described in 1880 from the Philippines. The earlier name L. aggregata takes precedence, but later introductions had already made the name strychnifolia borderline familiar in gardens. A widespread plant across southern China and beyond, it seems to have been introduced several times, often through botanic garden seed exchanges. A rare example of a known-wild-provenance introduction was LUSHAN 41 (Jiangxi, 2004) (Arnold Arboretum 2021). Raulston (1993) was impressed by its performance in North Carolina, suggesting that it had excellent potential for a landscape specimen or informal hedging plant in the American Southeast, but it remains rare in gardens on both sides of the Atlantic, offered commercially only occasionally. Plants of garden origin are recorded from a few major collections, including Arboretum Kalmthout, Belgium (Plantcol 2023), Caerhays Castle, UK (Williams 2023) and the US National Arboretum (US National Arboretum 2023).