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A large evergreen shrub 8 to 12, or sometimes up to 25 ft, high, spreading half as much more in diameter; young wood glabrous. Leaves oblong-oblanceolate or oblong-elliptic, 3 to 7 in. long, 1 to 21⁄4 in. wide; pointed, tapering at the base, finely toothed to the base, glabrous, and dark glossy green, of firm leathery texture. Flowers produced during May in a cluster of panicles, terminating the shoots of the previous year, and from 4 to 6 in. long and wide. Corolla pendent, white, pitcher-shaped, 1⁄4 to 5⁄16 in. long, contracted at the mouth, where are five shallow, rounded teeth; calyx-lobes 1⁄8 in. long, green, narrowly ovate; flower-stalk 1⁄4 in. or less long, with a pair of bracts. Bot. Mag., t. 8283.
P. formosa is a wide-ranging species, from Nepal through the eastern Himalaya, Assam, upper Burma to south-west and parts of central China at 6,000 to 11,000 ft; the date of introduction is not known, but it was cultivated at Lamorran in Cornwall in 1881. This shrub is perfectly hardy and reaches a large size in the woodland gardens of southern England, though the finest specimens are to be found in Cornwall, where it attains a height of 25 ft. As in P. japonica and P. taiwanensis, the panicles are produced in autumn, and it has been suggested that when they drop prematurely the cause is dryness at the root rather than frost.
In China, P. formosa appears to be more variable than in the Himalaya, which is the source of all the older plants. In addition to the forms represented in cultivation, and discussed below, there are some with remarkably small leaves, suggesting P. japonica rather than P. formosa – indeed two specimens collected by Forrest in Yunnan during his first journey were originally identified as that species.
P. formosa received a First Class Certificate when shown from Caerhays on April 29, 1969.
At Wakehurst Place in Sussex there is a plant of typical P. formosa raised from Forrest 8945, collected in Yunnan on the Shweli-Salween divide in 1912 at 9,000-10,000 ft. It has made a dense many-stemmed bush about 15 ft high, with leathery, rather stiff, slightly undulated leaves very rugulose above, elliptic to broadly so or slightly ovate, relatively rather broad for the species, 23⁄4 to 31⁄2 in. long, 11⁄8 to 15⁄8 in. wide, dull brownish red when young; in Forrest’s original material under this number the leaves are similar, though rather smaller. The flowers are produced in large panicles about once every three years; corolla about 5⁄16 in. long; calyx pale green. There is a matching plant at Borde Hill which was planted before 1935 as Pieris species F.8945, and is believed to have come from Messrs Marchant. Flowering material from the Wakehurst plant was exhibited by Sir Henry Price on March 20, 1957, and received an Award of Merit. Unfortunately the award was given to it under the cultivar-name ‘Wakehurst’, which traditionally belongs to a clone of P. formosa var. forrestii (see below). The application of the same cultivar-name to two quite different plants has been the source of much confusion and should be rectified. The plant discussed here is inferior to the true ‘Wakehurst’, and slow-growing and tender when young.
A late-flowering form of P. formosa was exhibited by Mrs Warren, The Hyde, Handcross, Sussex, on June 23, 1964, under number Forrest 29002. The flowers are about the normal size for the species but the leaves are unusually narrow, 25⁄8 to 31⁄4 in. long, 5⁄8 to 1 in. wide. There are plants at Borde Hill, Sussex, of unknown provenance, with the same narrow leaves and also late-flowering. The young foliage is bronzy, and the flowers are borne in stiffly branched panicles; calyx white, sometimes tipped with green. They are very hardy and flower every year.
Mention was made on page 201 of the confusion that had arisen through the Award of Merit, under the name P. formosa ‘Wakehurst’, being given in 1957 to a plant at Wakehurst Place of P. formosa F.8945, which is totally distinct from the clone then and now sold in the trade as ‘Wakehurst’ or ‘Wakehurst Variety’. This matter was taken in hand by David Hunt and A. D. Schilling (The Plantsman, Vol. 3(3), pp. 189-91), and thanks to their intervention, the cultivar-name ‘Wakehurst’ has been officially attached to the well-known clone to which it traditionally belongs. The Wakehurst Place plant of F.8945 (and its derivatives by vegetative propagation) has been named ‘Henry Price’. Most plants of F.8945 in gardens belong to the clone distributed by Messrs Marchant, but whether this is true of ‘Henry Price’ it is impossible to say.
† cv. ‘Balls of Fire’. – A selection with bright red young foliage raised at Fota in Eire by Mrs Bell; distributed by Glendoick Nurseries.
† cv. ‘Jermyns’. – Flowers pink in the bud and so making the plant decorative all through the winter. A.M. 1959.
† cv. ‘Rowallane’. – Young foliage clear yellow (Graham Thomas, Gardens of the National Trust, Plate V). A self-sown seedling of ‘Wakehurst’, which was found in the National Trust garden at Rowallane, Co. Down. It has been propagated and is growing in the Windsor Great Park collection.
P. ‘Forest Flame’. – Under this (page 203), mention was made of ‘Fire-crest’. Further details on this undoubtedly hybrid clone will be found in The Plantsman, Vol. 3(4), page 256 (1982). It is similar to ‘Forest Flame’ but grows taller (15-18 ft) and flowers more freely. Indeed it has received an Award of Merit twice, once for its young foliage and again as a flowering shrub.
Leaves oblanceolate or oblong-oblanceolate, acute at the apex, narrowly tapered to the base, up to 5 in. long by 1 in. wide, margins with close, shallow serrations. This clone arose at the Sunningdale Nurseries as a self-sown seedling at the foot of a plant of P. japonica. It is near to this species in the shape and toothing of its leaves, but their colouring when young and their size, as well as the vigour of the plant, suggests that P. formosa var. forrestii, or possibly P. formosa F.8945, was the other parent. It comes into growth somewhat earlier than ‘Wakehurst’. The foliage is not quite so vivid when young, but is more elegant, and the habit of young plants is more compact and symmetrical. Award of Merit May 1, 1973. Similar to this, and also a hybrid, is ‘Firecrest’, put into commerce by Messrs Waterer, Sons and Crisp. It was originally distributed as ‘Pieris species F.8945’, and presumably a plant under that number was the seed-parent. The other parent was probably P. japonica. ‘Firecrest’ received an Award of Merit on May 1, 1973.
P. forrestii Harrow
Gaultheria forrestii Hort., not Diels