Evergreen shrub or small tree to 10 m. Young branchlets green, white-pubescent at first. Buds either ovate-oblong, ~4 mm, or ellipsoid, 7–8 mm; bud scales white-pubescent. Leaves trinerved or triplinerved; blade variably shaped, ovate, obovate, elliptic, oblong or oblong-lanceolate, 8–13 × 2–4.5 cm, white-pubescent on both surfaces at first, becoming more or less glabrous; base rounded or broadly cuneate; margin entire; apex acuminate or caudate-acuminate, the acumen to 3 cm long; petiole 0.8–1.2 cm, white-pubescent at first. Umbels in groups of 3–5, on short (1–3) mm branchlets in leaf axils. Male flowers with 6 tepals, white pubescent on the keel outside, glabrous inside; fertile stamens 9. Female flowers not studied. Fruit ellipsoidal, 0.8 × 0.6 cm. Flowering April–June (Bhutan), fruiting June–August (China). (Cui & van der Werff 2008; Grimshaw & Bayton 2009).
Distribution Bhutan China Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hubei, Hunan, Shaanxi, Sichuan, Xizang, Yunnan India Nepal
Habitat Forest and margins, thickets, mountain slopes, riversides; 100–3700m.
USDA Hardiness Zone 8-9
RHS Hardiness Rating H4
Conservation status Not evaluated (NE)
Taxonomic note 1. Where varieties within L. pulcherrima are recognized, Lindera gambleana var. gambleana is a synonym of L. pulcherrima var. hemsleyana (see key below). 2. Lindera pulcherrima subsp. thomsonii (C.K.Allen) D.G.Long is a synonym of L. thomsonii C.K.Allen: we do not describe this species here, and while it has been introduced as seed (SICH 1602, Sichuan, 1995), it failed to germinate at both Kew and Quarryhill (Grimshaw & Bayton 2009).
As widespread in warm-temperate Asia as it is rare in western cultivation, Lindera pulcherrima is a small forest tree whose dark evergreen leaves, paler beneath, have long drip-tips. A single introduction has proved hardy in southern England. The garden value of its flowers is still to be assessed, but images of wild plants in India suggest that densely clustered, properly yellow flowers contrast well with the dark leaves (eFloraofIndia 2023).
Among the species we describe with tri- or triplinerved evergreen leaves, L. pulcherrima most resembles L. aggregata and L. floribunda. They are probably closely related, and have been confused taxonomically over the years. All three have rather rounded leaves, the sort of shape in which even quite minor variation in outline could lead to them being classed as ovate, obovate or elliptic; all have acuminate to caudate leaf apices. L. aggregata has golden rather than white hairs on the young shoots and leaf undersides, while L. floribunda seems poorly known. L. fragrans and L. tonkinensis have proportionately narrower leaves, tending rather more towards lanceolate (Cui & van der Werff 2008; Chinese Academy of Sciences 2023). Molecular studies support a close relationship between L. pulcherrima, L. aggregata and several similar species not discussed here (Tian, Ye & Song 2019)
Several varieties are sometimes recognized (see key below, following Flora of China – Cui & van der Werff 2008). We have no reason to think that anything other than the type var. pulcherrima is in cultivation. The description and distribution given above cover the species as a whole.
Flora of China notes that the leaves and bark contain aromatic oil and gum; leaves are used for pig food, while the bark is used in traditional Chinese medicine.
The type variety was introduced as a single seedling from Nepal to Wakehurst Place, Sussex, by Tony Schilling in 1983 (Schilling 2617, Dorandi Valley, Gurkha Himal in central Nepal). Schilling (pers. comm. 2005 to Grimshaw & Bayton 2009) noted that the parent trees were large evergreens, growing as understorey in evergreen oak forest. It survived the severe winter of 1985–6 undamaged at about 1 m tall (Clarke 1988) and it is still growing at Wakehurst, having reached 3 m by 2010 (The Tree Register 2023), an erect, rounded, bushy tree with several stems. The leaves are a glossy mid-green with a pale underside. No flowers had been observed by 2007 (D. Hardman, pers. comm. to Grimshaw & Bayton 2009).
|1a||Ovary and style densely pubescent; young fruits laxly or densely pubescent; 2,200–3,700 m asl; Bhutan, China (Xizang), India, Nepal||var. pulcherrima|
|1b||Ovary glabrous, style laxly or densely pubescent; young fruits glabrous||2|
|2a||Leaf blade lanceolate, rarely narrowly ovate; below 100–1,600 m asl; China (Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hubei, Hunan, Sichuan, Yunnan)||var. attenuata C.K. Allen|
|2b||Leaf blade elliptic, oblong or obovate; ~2,000 m asl, China (Guangxi, Guizhou, Hubei, Hunan, Shaanxi, Sichuan, Yunnan)||var. hemsleyana (Diels) H. P. Tsui|