Deciduous shrub or small tree to 5 m. Bark grey-brown. Young branchlets greyish, with many lenticels, rough with corky protruberances. Terminal buds long-conical, ~1 cm. Leaves pinnately veined, with 4–5 pairs of lateral veins; blade membranous, oblanceolate or rarely obovate, (5–)9–12(–15) × (1.5–)4–5(–6) cm, with appressed hairs, denser beneath; base narrowly cuneate, usually decurrent; margin entire; apex acuminate; petiole 0.5–1 cm. Umbels inserted on both sides of axillary buds, on 5 mm peduncles, each umbel with 4 involucral bracts and about 15–17 flowers. Flowers yellowish green, tepals 6; male flowers with 9 fertile stamens; female flowers smaller, with nine reduced, fasciated staminodes, and a disc-shaped stigma on a thick style. Fruit globose, red at maturity, 0.7–0.8 cm across, with fragrant, oily pulp. Flowering April–May, fruiting September–October (China). (Cui & van der Werff 2008; Grimshaw & Bayton 2009).
Distribution China Anhui, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Shaanxi, Shandong, Sichuan Japan Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku North Korea South Korea Taiwan
Habitat Mountain slopes, valleys, riversides, forests; below 1000 m.
USDA Hardiness Zone 6-8
RHS Hardiness Rating H5
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
Lindera erythrocarpa stands out as one of the deciduous species which quite readily makes a true, single-trunked small tree, although more shrubby plants are also seen. An elegantly formed 6 m tree in the Rhododendron Wood at Gresgarth Hall (Lancashire, UK) single-stemmed with spreading branches, shows what is possible (The Tree Register 2023). Exceptional specimens at the Scott Arboretum, PA, reached 10 m in height (Grimshaw & Bayton 2009). The abundant, clear yellow flowers appear in spring and are followed on female plants (this is a sexual species, unlike the usually apomictic L. glauca) by crops of red fruits that can be ornamental in their own right. Bright yellow autumn foliage is another fine feature (Grimshaw & Bayton 2009). Full sun to light shade on fertile soil suits this warm-temperate woodland species; drought and limy soils should be avoided (Pépinière Aoba 2023).
Among the species with deciduous, pinnately veined leaves, it has often been confused with the Japanese endemic L. umbellata. Any Chinese-provenance plant or herbarium specimen labelled L. umbellata is most likely to be L. erythrocarpa. L. erythrocarpa differs in the red fruit which inspired Makino’s specific epithet (cf. black in L. umbellata), rough grey bark in young specimens (cf. smooth and reddish), oblanceolate (rather than narrowly obovate to ovate) leaves with a longer, more narrowly cuneate base, and in its ability to form a single stemmed tree (Allen 1941; Ohwi 1965; Grimshaw & Bayton 2009). However, molecular data do not support a very close relationship (Zhao et al. 2018). While both species occur in Japan, L. erythrocarpa has a more southerly distribution. Like many linderas it has been used in folk medicine, and there is a very large body of literature on possible uses in modern medicine, particularly as an anti-inflammatory (eg. Wang et al. 2008).
While Ernest Wilson may perhaps have introduced Chinese seed as L. umbellata in the early 20th century (Bean 1981), more reliably identified material has been introduced from Japan and Korea many times from the 1980s onwards. The Chollipo Arboretum, South Korea, has been an important source of seed since at least 1981 (Clarke 1988), examples from this source being planted out at Kew in 1983–4 (Grimshaw & Bayton 2009), at the Arnold Arboretum around the same time (Arnold Arboretum 2023), and at Hergest Croft (Herefordshire, UK) where a specimen dating from 1987 had reached 8 m × 31 cm by 2013 (The Tree Register 2023). Other Korean collections include the US National Arboretum’s KNW 238 of 1984, KSW 3768 of 1985 (US National Arboretum 2023; University of British Columbia 2023), along with KR 5434 offered commercially in France (Pépinière Aoba 2023), and Crûg Farm’s BSWJ 8730. Warner & Howick 841 (Honshu 1987) was an early introduction from Japan, reaching 4 m by 2022 at Kew (The Tree Register 2023). Other Japanese collections are BCJMMT 288 (Honshu 2007, grown at RBG Edinburgh, Benmore, and Berkeley, CA); RBG Edinburgh’s Southern Japan Expedition (ESJE) 44 (Kyushu 2006, grown at Edinburgh and Logan); and two commercial Crûg Farm collections from Kyushu, BSWJ 6271 of 1998 and the later BSWJ 11464 (Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 2023; University of California Botanical Garden 2023; Crûg Farm 2023). Chinese-provenance material is harder to trace, although it is sometimes listed by commercial seed suppliers in China. Our collective experience of these various collections is still too slight to be able to make meaningful comparisons.
This is one of the better represented Lindera species in collections, both in Western Europe and on both seaboards of North America, and is not hard to find in specialist nurseries on both sides of the Atlantic.