Evergreen shrub or small tree to 5 m. Bark brownish. Young branchlets slender, green, with yellowish-white pubescence; year-old branchlets stout, glabrous, with irregular longitudinal splits. Terminal buds ovate. Leaves pinnately veined, with 5–7 pairs of lateral veins; blade leathery, variably shaped, lanceolate, ovate or elliptic, (3–)4–9(–12) × 1–3(–4.5) cm; upper surface green, glabrous; lower surface grey-green or yellowish, with yellow-brown hairs at least initially; base broadly cuneate to rounded; margin incurved; apex acute, acuminate or almost caudate-acuminate; petiole 0.5–0.8 cm. Umbels solitary or paired in leaf axils, on very short peduncles, each umbel with 4 quickly-falling involucral bracts. Flowers with 6 ovate tepals, pubescent outside, glabrous inside. Male flowers yellow, with 9 fertile stamens; female flowers smaller, yellow to white, with nine reduced, fasciated staminodes and a peltate stigma. Fruit ovoid, red at maturity, ~1 × 0.75 cm. Flowering March–April, fruiting September–October (China). (Cui & van der Werff 2008; Grimshaw & Bayton 2009).
Distribution Myanmar China Fujian, Gansu, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Shaanxi, Sichuan, Yunnan, Zhejiang India Laos Thailand Vietnam Taiwan
Habitat Dry sandy places, evergreen broad-leaved forests.
USDA Hardiness Zone 9-10
RHS Hardiness Rating H3
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
Lindera communis is a leathery-leaved, spring-flowering evergreen shrub. The small yellowish flowers are in dense umbels, almost sessile in the leaf axils. The general impression of a flowering shoot is much like the Bay Laurel Laurus nobilis (Lindera and Laurus are not very distantly related). On female plants with a pollinator present the red fruits can be carried quite densely (Chinese Academy of Sciences 2023), potentially an attractive feature. It has a wide distribution in warm-temperate Asia, from NE India to Laos by way of Myanmar, Thailand and central to southern China. In our area it is probably only suited to mild, sheltered gardens on the Pacific seaboard of North America, and the Atlantic margins of France and the British Isles.
Few of the many linderas with pinnately veined evergreen leaves are grown in our area: they are very much plants of warm-temperate to subtropical forests, mostly hardy – if at all – only on the milder fringes of our area. Of the three we describe, the Taiwanese endemic L. akoensis is most similar, differing in its smaller leaves (3–5 cm long, cf. 4–9 cm) with an acute but not acuminate apex, and also (good lens and great patience required!) a distinct, obconical perianth tube (cf. indistinct in L. communis) (Cui & van der Werff 2008). The more widespread, and more often cultivated, L. megaphylla has much longer (10–23 cm) leaves, which tend to be clustered at the ends of branchlets; it is often more tree-like.
All parts of the plant contain aromatic oil. Branchlets and leaves have uses in traditional medicine (Cui & van der Werff 2008) and in flavouring food, including rice-cooking water (Kundlik & Rajasekaran 2023). The fruit and seeds are particularly oil-rich (over 40% in seeds – Dong, Zhang & Huang 2014) which has been used as a flavouring, machine lubricant and for making soap (Cui & van der Werff 2008). Its potential for making biodiesel has been explored (Dong, Zhang & Huang 2014), while studies on its drug potential are listed by Kundlik & Rajasekaran (2023). Ernest Wilson (in Sargent 1916) described the dried foliage of this and other evergreen linderas being powdered in a water-powered stamping mill, then mixed with glutinous rice-water to make joss-sticks. The specific epithet communis reflects the plant’s long association with people.
Lindera communis has sporadically been available commercially, both in North America and the United Kingdom, but the only stock of known provenance traced by Grimshaw & Bayton (2009) derived from Dan Hinkley’s collection (DJHC 030) made near Kunming, Yunnan in 1996. It was for a while sold as vegetatively propagated plants from a specimen that has grown at Heronswood in coastal Washington State, tolerating –8 °C without damage ((Heronswood Nursery 2005). Sean Hogan (pers. comm. 2007) reported that this species does well in the shelter of central Portland, OR, but less well out of town at Cistus Nursery on Sauvie Island, where it has been cut to the ground by frost. It is not at all clear whether other collections by western expeditions have resulted in living plants. Wilson collected herbarium specimens on several occasions (Sargent 1916), once of fruiting material (W 296 of 1907, W Hubei), so seed might have been gathered at the same time. Seed from SABE 1650, 1679 and 1906 (Hubei 1980) and Spongberg 14 (Yunnan 1980) was accessioned by the Arnold Arboretum, MA, although it is no surprise that the species does not survive there (Arnold Arboretum 2023). It is sometimes offered by Chinese seed merchants, and some may well have found its way into western gardens this way.
In Britain there is a very old multistemmed Lindera in a sheltered position at Caerhays Castle, Cornwall labelled L. communis. Its origin is unknown but the leaves certainly fit the description. It had reached 7 m × 55 cm by 2016 (The Tree Register 2022); cut back in 2021, it is regrowing strongly (Williams 2023). It is tempting to imagine that this might be a survivor from a collection by Wilson or one of his contemporaries.