Deciduous shrub or small tree to 8 m. Bark grey. Young branchlets yellow-white, brown-pubescent at least at first. Winter buds long, tapering, about 1.5 × 0.4 cm; bud scales not keeled, red where exposed. Leaves pinnately veined, with (4–)5–6 pairs of lateral veins; blade membranous, elliptic to obovate, 4–9 × 2–4(–6) cm, lower surface glaucous with white pubescence. Umbels axillary, involucral bracts included within mixed buds, each umbel with 3–8 flowers. Flowers with six yellow tepal; male flowers with nine fertile stamens; female flowers with nine fasciated staminodes and disc-shaped stigma. 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 on 1–1.5 cm stipe. Flowering March–April, fruiting July–August (China). (Cui & van der Werff 2008).
Distribution Myanmar China Anhui, Fujian, Gansu, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, SW Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, SW Shaanxi, E Shandong, Shanxi, Sichuan, Zhejiang Japan Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu South Korea Taiwan
Habitat Forests, roadsides on mountain slopes; below 900 m.
USDA Hardiness Zone 5-9
RHS Hardiness Rating H5
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
This species is much confused in cultivation with its close relative L. angustifolia, the confused name L. salicifolia further muddying the waters. L. salicifolia is the most frequently seen name in collections, but in practice L. angustifolia seems to be by far the commoner plant, whichever of the three names it is grown under. L. angustifolia and L. glauca are very similar species, with deciduous, pinnately veined leaves. They are distinguished from others we describe in that informal group by the inflorescences being sessile or almost so (peduncles less than 3 mm) (Cui & van der Werff 2008). Summer foliage is unremarkable, papery textured, pale mid-green above and rather dully glaucous below (Grimshaw & Bayton 2009). L. angustifolia has the same leaf texture but distinctly narrower leaves, lanceolate or oblong-lanceolate as opposed to obovate-elliptic in L. glauca (Allen 1941); it has only been recorded in China and Korea. Also, at least in Chinese material, L. angustifolia has glabrous young branchlets, while in L. glauca they have brown hairs, at least initially (Cui & van der Werff 2008).
While these two species are generally considered to be distinct (Allen 1941; Cui & van der Werff 2008; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew 2023; Chinese Academy of Sciences 2023) the name L. salicifolia is problematic. Lindera salicifolia (Blume) Boerl. is the accepted name for a tropical plant, endemic to Java (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew 2023) and nothing to do with L. glauca. Other uses of the name seem to be at best dubiously valid synonyms of L. angustifolia, applied to Korean as opposed to Chinese material. Plants of the World Online (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew 2023) gives Lindera salicifolia (T.B.Lee) C.M.Pak as first published in 1996 without a basionym; (Chang, Kim & Chang 2014) list L. salicifolia (Nakai) C.M.Pak and L. glauca var. salicifolia (Nakai) T.B.Lee as synonyms of L. angustifolia. These names derive from Benzoin salicifolium Nakai, which Shaw (2013) determined was an invalid name. This is a complicated picture, but confusion does not reign. The narrow-leaved garden plants with excellent autumn colour, quite widely grown in North America and sometimes in Europe, often but not always labelled L. salicifolia, seem to belong in L. angustifolia.
Broader-leaved plants which seem to fit Lindera glauca itself are known in cultivation (see images – we show three plants of different origins below, in some detail, to give an idea of variation in the species). L. glauca is grown at the US National Arboretum from KSW 3676 (SW Korea, 1985 – US National Arboretum 2021); images of the same collection grown at UBC Botanic Garden, Vancouver (University of British Columbia 2021) show a suitably broad-leaved plant. Given the history of confusion, anybody growing plants under any of these names should check their identification.
Mainland Chinese populations of Lindera glauca are heavily biased towards female plants, although in Taiwan males are abundant. On the mainland, Xiong et al. (2020) found that while sexual reproduction involving rare males did occur, apomixis was the norm. Further, a little pollen production by the staminodes was detected, opening the possibility of self-fertilization by ‘females’. In Japanese populations, only females are known, and are believed to be apomictic (Nakamura et al. 2021). Whatever the evolutionary and biogeographical reasons for this, apomixis in a dioecious species is of great garden value, allowing fruiting (and seed propagation) when only a single clone is grown.
A widespread species in China, Flora of China (Cui & van der Werff 2008) notes several uses in line with other linderas: timber is used in woodwork, leaves and fruit are processed for their aromatic oil, while the seed oil is used for making soap and machine oil; roots, branchlets, leaves, and fruit are used medicinally.