Polyspora is a segregate genus resulting from the proposed division of the polyphyletic Gordonia (Prince & Parks 2001, Yang et al. 2004), Gordonia now being restricted to New World species, with the Asian species (approximately 40) transferred into Polyspora. These are evergreen trees or shrubs with leathery, pinnately veined leaves, which are often clustered at branchlet apices; the leaves are petiolate, entire or serrate. The flowers are hermaphrodite, axillary and solitary or in short racemes; with five sepals, caducous; five (to six) petals, slightly fused at the base; and numerous stamens, outer whorl filaments fused to the base of the petals. The fruit is an oblong to cylindrical woody capsule, that splits from the apex into five (rarely six to eight) sections, revealing a central column. The seeds are flat with an apical membranous wing (Ming & Bartholomew 2007).
Polyspora is closely related to both Camellia and Pyrenaria, and the genera can be confused. For example, Camellia taliensis (see Bean: B486) is also known as Polyspora (Gordonia) yunnanensis Hu, and is cultivated in the United Kingdom under this name. The genera can be distinguished by examining the seeds, which are winged in Polyspora (and in Schima and Stewartia), but wingless in both Camellia and Pyrenaria.
Polyspora will almost always be found as Gordonia in the relatively few gardens that have representatives. They are undoubtedly plants for the mildest extremities of our area, but do well in the valleys of Cornwall, where a high tree canopy, acidic soil and abundant moisture provide ideal conditions; if similar conditions can be provided elsewhere, however, they are certainly well worth attempting. Polyspora axillaris is fully established in cultivation but other species are not, including P. chrysandra, described by Bean (B294) and Krüssmann (K117). The genus has not attracted much attention from most collectors, but there is a range of species in southeastern Asia, all with attractive flowers and foliage. Gatherings of Polyspora have been made in China and northern Vietnam in recent years, but plants have yet to flower in cultivation so their identity remains uncertain.