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Tree to 25 m. Bark smooth or corky and blackish brown; branchlets glabrous and with numerous lenticels. Crown broadly conical to rounded. Leaves deciduous, 8–13 × 8–15 cm, alternate, three-lobed, central lobe broadly ovate and lateral lobes triangular, venation prominent, margins serrate, apex delicate and elongated, somewhat caudate; in young leaves, both surfaces may be glabrous or pubescent; petiole 4–8 cm long; stipules brown, tomentose and 0.3–1 cm long; buds with glossy scales. Monoecious. Male inflorescences globose, 2–2.5 cm wide, several arranged in a raceme, peduncle 2–3 cm long. Female inflorescences globose, solitary, with 15–26 flowers, peduncle 3–6 cm long. Female flowers with styles 0.5–0.7 cm long, brown and pubescent. Fruit a woody capsule, persistent style recurved. Flowering March to June, fruiting July to September (China). Zhang et al. 2003b. Distribution CHINA: Anhui, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hubei, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Sichuan. Habitat Montane evergreen forests between 600 and 1000 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 6. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Zhang et al. 2003b; NTiv, NT457, NT459.
Liquidambar acalycina is perhaps one of the most important recent tree introductions, growing well across much of our region and generally making a handsome young tree. Its most distinctive and attractive character is the bronze or red flush to the new growth, which continues as the shoots develop throughout the summer. The intensity of this coloration varies between individuals and some are brighter red than the majority; younger plants may also show a more intense flush than older specimens, in which the foliage becomes much smaller than on vigorous young individuals. A particularly red one has been named ‘Burgundy Flush’ (Hsu & Andrews 2005). The species was first introduced to cultivation by the Sino-American Botanical Expedition of 1980, which collected seed in the ‘Metasequoia region’ of western Hubei (under the number SABE 1950). In this area it grows with other fine broadleaved trees in poorly drained soil subject to flooding (Bartholomew et al. 1983). Material from this collection was widely distributed and many arboreta can show trees grown from it. At the US National Arboretum there is a fine, double-trunked tree, of about 12 m in 2006 (trunks 20 and 17 cm dbh), and a tree of similar height but greater girth (32 cm dbh in 2006) at the Morris Arboretum is the finest example of the species seen during research for this book. A conspicuous example in Europe is the elegant specimen growing near the Orangery at Kew, now approaching 10 m, but there are many more in gardens and arboreta that are also doing well. It would seem to be a better grower, in English gardens at least, than L. styraciflua, but although the leaves are late to fall it does not colour well in autumn here. In Vancouver, however, it is said to develop superb orange and deep purple tints before the leaves fall in December (Wharton et al. 2005).
The claim by Piroche Plants (2002–2005) that they were responsible for its introduction in 1995 is clearly wrong, but they have certainly been responsible for importing material from China regularly since that time (S. Hogan, pers. comm. 2007). Hsu & Andrews (2005) record an introduction to the United Kingdom in 1996 of seed from the Shanghai Botanic Garden, and it may be that this has been the source for other importations. It is now impossible to trace the origin of the mass of plants available in the nursery trade.