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Tree to 15 m, to 0.45 m dbh. Branchlets initially covered with a dense tangle of yellow and grey hairs, completely obscuring the bark; mature branchlets dark brown and only minutely pubescent. Leaves evergreen, alternate, 6–26 × 2.5–10 cm, obovate to elliptic, upper surface glossy green and glabrous or with some hairs along the midrib, lower surface with small, sparse hairs and a fringe of hairs along the veins and midrib, 5–10 secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins entire, apex acuminate; petiole 1.5–2.5 cm long with dense pubescence. Inflorescence axillary and paniculate, densely pubescent. Flowers four to eight per cluster. Fruit black and ellipsoidal with a prominent six-lobed cupule. Flowering May (China). Liao 1996b, Wharton et al. 2005. Distribution CHINA: Anhui; TAIWAN. Habitat Moist forest at low elevations. USDA Hardiness Zone 7–8. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Wharton et al. 2005. Cross-reference K394.
Of the species of Phoebe described here, P. sheareri is perhaps the most handsome, with large, drooping obovate to oblanceolate leaves, dull green above but with ferruginous pubescence on the lower surface. The group in the David C. Lam Asian Garden in Vancouver, grown from NA 60723 collected by Peter Wharton in Anhui in 1988, has been extensively described and praised (Wharton et al. 2005). The plants seem to be hardy there and are making straight trees of about 7 m with spreading branches, although they are naturally rather sparsely clad in leaves. They survived –10 °C unscathed in November 2006 (P. Wharton, pers. comm. 2006). A specimen at Tregrehan has reached 7–8 m since 1994.
Phoebe chekiangensis P.T. Li, originally described by Shang (1974) (though later validated by P.T. Li), is very similar to P. sheareri but has revolute leaf margins, a glabrous style, and blue-black fruits with persistent tepals at the base (Shang 1974). It is a localised endemic in China, occurring only in Fujian, Jiangxi and Zhejiang provinces, and is vulnerable to overexploitation (for firewood) and habitat degradation and loss. It was received at the JC Raulston Arboretum from the Hangzhou Botanical Garden in 1989, but was introduced to commerce by Cliff Parks of Camellia Forest Nursery, North Carolina, with later offerings by other American nurseries. It is particularly highly regarded in the southeastern states, where it is making attractive small trees (T. Lasseigne, pers. comm. 2007). At Heronswood it survived unscathed for several winters.