Small evergreen tree to 5 m. Bark yellow-brown. Young branchlets blue-green or yellowish, white-pubescent or glabrous. Leaves trinerved; blade membranous or leathery, lanceolate or narrowly ovate, white-pubescent beneath only at higher elevations; base cuneate; margin entire; apex acuminate; petiole 0.5–0.8 cm. Umbels axillary, with 4 involucral bracts and 2–4 flowers; male flowers yellow, aromatic, with 6 tepals densely yellow-brown pubescent outside, and 9 fertile stamens; female flowers not yet studied. Fruit ovoid, blue-green maturing purple-black, ~1 × 0.7 cm. (Cui & van der Werff 2008).
Distribution China Guangxi, Guizhou, Hubei, Shaanxi, Sichuan Vietnam
Habitat Ditch sides or thickets on mountain slopes; 700–2100 m.
USDA Hardiness Zone 8-9
RHS Hardiness Rating H4
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
Lindera fragrans has at least some ornamental potential in mild-climate gardens as a narrow-leaved evergreen tree, but has only a toehold on North American cultivation.
It belongs to the group of species with tri- or triplinerved evergreen leaves. Of those we describe, L. fragrans and L. tonkinensis have proportionately narrower leaves, tending towards lanceolate, than L. aggregata, L. floribunda and L. pulcherrima whose leaves are rather more rounded; all have acuminate to caudate apices. In L. fragrans any hairs on the young branchlets and leaf undersides are white, rather than red-brown in L. tonkinensis. In L. fragrans the umbels of small yellowish flowers are almost sessile in the leaf axils, while in typical L. tonkinensis they are distinctly stalked, with peduncles at least 5 mm long, giving a looser appearance (Cui & van der Werff 2008; Chinese Academy of Sciences 2023).
Flora of China (Cui & van der Werff 2008) notes leaf variation at different elevations: at 700–1000 m the blade is matt, 3–5 cm long, papery, and white pubescent beneath; at 1000–1500 m it is shiny, sometimes more leathery, and glabrous; also, at higher elevations the first pair of lateral veins is very near the margin.
Oliver’s specific epithet of 1888 presumably refers to the aromatic oil present throughout the plant, a feature common to most linderas. Like many other evergreen species, preparations of leaf and bark are used in traditional Chinese medicine, in this case as a qi-regulating drug (Wang et al. 2023). It is also one of several Litsea, Machilus and Lindera species whose leaves are used to make hawk tea, a very popular drink in southern China (Bai, Peng & Xiong 2022; Tan et al. 2016).
This central and southern Chinese species is grown, if uncommonly, in gardens of the American South (Missouri Botanical Garden 2023), and at one time was distributed commercially by Woodlanders, SC (Raulston 1993). The only introduction we have been able to trace is SABE 1623 (Hubei, 1980), although there may have been others, perhaps through botanic garden seed exchanges. On the extreme edge of our North American area two plants from the SABE collection grow at Berkeley, CA (University of California Botanical Garden 2023). It seems to be unknown in Europe.