A tree to 20 m. Bark grey, rather smooth. Twigs glabrous, buds ovoid, pubescent. Leaves evergreen, obovate or narrowly oblong to lanceolate, 7–12 × 3–5 cm, with a cuneate base and a shortly pointed tip; leathery, glabrescent, rather matt, rugose, with a prominent midrib and sunken lateral veins in c. 7 pairs; with an irregular, glandular serration except towards the base of the leaf; flushing purplish and maturing to dark green, paler beneath; petiole short (to 12 mm), glabrous. Fruit-head subglobose with a flattened base, 17–28 mm wide, ripening purplish, rugose, on a stout peduncle; flowering (in the wild) in March–June, fruit ripening July–September. (Zhang, Zhang & Endress 2003; Crûg Farm Plants 2021).
Distribution China Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hainan, Hunan, Jiangxi, SE Yunnan, Zhejiang Vietnam Mountains in the north of the country
Habitat Evergreen montane forests.
USDA Hardiness Zone 9
RHS Hardiness Rating H3
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
This is one of several subtropical species with evergreen, unlobed leaves which look very little like the hardy Liquidambar species and used to be placed in their own genus, Altingia. The species was collected at high altitude in north Vietnam by Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones in the autumn of 2006 (BSWJ 11756), and was first identified and marketed as A. poilanei (an allied but bushier species which is restricted to Vietnam and was named by M. L. Tardieu-Blot in 1965 (Tardieu-Blot 1965) in memory of the French botanist Eugène Poilane, who had worked in Vietnam and had died in the previous year). This Crûg Farm stock was positively re-identified as L. chinensis by Jan De Langhe and Stefanie Ickert-Bond in 2021 (S. Ickert-Bond and J. De Langhe pers. comms. 2021).
Like other collections from this zone, BSWJ 11756 is likely to succeed only in the milder parts of our area, given shelter and enough summer rainfall. The reddish purple flush to the narrow evergreen leaves, which are finely and sharply toothed and broadest above the middle, are likely to suggest some kind of Photinia. The large, knobbly, purplish fruit-heads, as photographed in the wild by the Wynn-Joneses, also seem an attractive feature.
In China the essential oils of the wood are used medicinally and in perfumery (Zhang, Zhang & Endress 2003).