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A deciduous shrub or small tree 20 to 30 ft high, the brown branchlets not downy, but marked with pale, narrow lenticels. Leaves three-veined from the base, variable in shape, mostly broadly ovate, sometimes entire, but usually more or less conspicuously three-lobed towards the apex, the lobes pointing forward, base heart-shaped, rounded or abruptly wedge-shaped, 21⁄2 to 5 in. long, 11⁄2 to 4 in. wide, dark shining green and glabrous above, pale and downy on the veins beneath, prominently triple-nerved; stalk 1⁄2 to 1 in. long, downy. Flowers yellowish, produced in March and April from the joints of the leafless wood in small dense clusters; each flower is about 1⁄6 in. across, borne on a stalk 1⁄6 in. long, clothed thickly with silky hairs. Fruits described by Sargent as shining black, globose, 1⁄4 in. across, and as forming a very handsome contrast to the yellow autumn foliage (but these would be produced in cultivation only if trees of both sexes were grown).
Native of China, Japan, and Korea; introduced by Maries in 1880, and grown and flowered in the Coombe Wood nursery. Wilson reintroduced this species from W. China in 1907-8 when collecting for the Arnold Arboretum. He described it as a handsome shrub or small tree, common in the woods of W. Hupeh and in spring ‘very conspicuous on account of the brilliant colour of the young leaves’.
Messrs Hillier have pointed out that the lindera which they distributed for some years under the name L. triloba is not that species but almost certainly L. obtusiloba, and this seems indeed to be the case. The Award of Merit given to “L. triloba” in 1952 for its beautiful butter-yellow autumn colouring therefore belongs really to L. obtusiloba.
L. cercidifolia Hemsl. Benzoin cercidifolium (Hemsl.) Rehd. – This species is very closely allied to L. obtusiloba but differs in the leaves being almost invariably unlobed and in the longer flower-stalks. Bot. Mag., n.s., t. 492.
A native of China, introduced by Wilson in 1907-8 when collecting for the Arnold Arboretum. Wilson described the fruits as dark red. Forrest sent seeds of this species from Yunnan and possibly all the plants grown in Britain are of this provenance. L. cercidifolia received an Award of Merit when a flowering branch was shown by W. Bentley of Quarry Wood, Newbury, on 25 March 1952; the plant there was raised from F.29087. The species is also cultivated at Exbury, probably from the same batch of seeds. The figure in the Botanical Magazine was made from material taken from the Exbury tree, which was 25 ft high in 1964. The leaves turn yellow in the autumn.
This species received a second Award of Merit on March 30, 1982, this time for its flowers.
[L. cercidifolia] – This species is included in L. obtusiloba by Grierson and Long in Notes Roy. Bot. Gard. Edin., Vol. 36, p. 146 (1978). However, the lindera cultivated under the name L. cercidifolia and figured as such in Bot. Mag., n.s., t.492, is not L. obtusiloba but represents a new species:
L. praetermissa Grierson & Long – This differs from L. obtusiloba primarily in producing its inflorescences and young shoots from the same buds (in L. obtusiloba the flowers are produced from separate buds on the naked wood of the previous season’s growth). Another difference is that in L. praetermissa the leaves are very rarely lobed and mostly obtuse at the apex. Bot. Mag., n.s., t.492.
L. praetermissa ranges from the Assam Himalaya and south-east Tibet through upper Burma to Yunnan, and was introduced by Forrest, almost certainly under his number F. 29087.
Some plants identified as L. cercidifolia belong to L. heterophylla Meissn., described in 1864 from a specimen collected by the younger Hooker in Sikkim. This resembles L. obtusiloba in having two types of bud, one producing flowers and the other vegetative shoots, but the leaves are rarely lobed at the apex as they frequently are in L. obtusiloba, and the two main lateral veins spring from the midrib at a point above the base of the leaf, whereas those of L. obtusiloba are three-veined from the base (ibid., pp. 147-9). L. heterophylla is a native of the eastern Himalaya, and is in cultivation at Wakehurst Place, Sussex, from seeds collected by A. D. Schilling in east Nepal, where it is at the western limit of its range.