Rhus verniciflua Stokes

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Article from Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles

Recommended citation
'Rhus verniciflua' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online (treesandshrubsonline.org/articles/rhus/rhus-verniciflua/). Accessed 2024-04-12.


Common Names

  • Varnish Tree


  • R. vernicifera DC.
  • R. vernix Thunb., not L.


With only male or only hermaphrodite flowers on individual plants.
Loose or open.
Egg-shaped; broadest towards the stem.
Odd-pinnate; (of a compound leaf) with a central rachis and an uneven number of leaflets due to the presence of a terminal leaflet. (Cf. paripinnate.)


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Article from Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles

Recommended citation
'Rhus verniciflua' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online (treesandshrubsonline.org/articles/rhus/rhus-verniciflua/). Accessed 2024-04-12.

A deciduous tree up to 60 ft high in China, of erect, slender habit when young. Leaves pinnate, 1 to 2 ft long, with seven to thirteen leaflets which are broadly ovate, the largest 6 or 7 in. long, half as much wide, sometimes obliquely heart-shaped at the base, shortly stalked, velvety downy beneath, especially on the sixteen to thirty veins. Flowers yellowish white, small and inconspicuous, produced during July in a cluster of lax, branching panicles from the leaf-axils near the end of the shoots, the largest panicles 10 in. long by 6 in. wide. Fruits about the size of small peas, yellowish.

A native of the Himalaya and China, but cultivated and possibly native in other parts of E. Asia and Malaysia. This is the tree which yields by incision the famous varnish or lacquer of Japan. As a tree for the garden it is desirable for its noble foliage. The fruits also are ornamental, but are not produced by all trees, since this species is partly dioecious, and in this country do not normally contain ripe seed; they are borne in long, lax panicles. An oil is expressed from the fruit in China, etc., which is used in candle-making.

Wilson collected seeds in China in 1907 from trees growing truly wild in the mountains. Plants raised from them grew faster when young than the Japanese trees which previously were the only representatives of the species in gardens, but there seems to be no difference in overall rate of growth, nor in hardiness.

R. verniciflua belongs to the Toxicodendron group and its sap can cause severe blistering.

The following examples have been recorded: Kew, pl. 1898, 35 × 412 ft (1967); pl. 1902, 50 × 4 ft (1967); pl 1908, 41 × 234 ft (1967); Wakehurst Place Sussex, 55 × 6 ft (1973); Westonbirt, Glos.,pl. 1939, 42 × 234 ft (1966); Hergest Croft, Heref., 50 × 334 ft (1961); Stanage Park, Radnor, 49 × 614 + 534 ft (1970); Edinburgh Botanic Garden,pl. 1908, from W.259, 44 × 314 ft (1970) and 34 × 334 ft (1967); University Botanic Garden, Cambridge, 53 × 514 ft (1969); National Botanic Garden, Glasnevin, Eire, 50 × 414 ft (1966).

From the Supplement (Vol. V)

specimens: Wakehurst Place, Sussex, 59 × 612 ft (1981); Borde Hill, Sussex, 52 × 634 ft (1979); Westonbirt, Glos., the tree mentioned no longer exists but there is one at Westonbirt House, 70 × 714 ft (1982); Hergest Croft, Heref., 59 × 434 + 4 ft (1978); Witham Hall, Lines., 42 × 812 ft at 3 ft (1983); University Botanic Garden, Cambridge, from Wilson 259, pl. 1908, 44 × 314 ft (1970); Stanage Park, Powys, 52 × 612 + 614 ft (1978); National Botanic Garden, Glasnevin, Eire, 52 × 412 ft (1974); Abbeyleix, Co. Laois, Eire, 70 × 434 ft (1985).

R sylvestris Sieb. & Zucc

Allied to R. verniciflua but a smaller tree, or a large shrub, which does not yield varnish. The leaflets are shorter, 1{3/4} to 4 in. long, but despite that have more numerous veins, mostly in eighteen to twenty-five pairs, which are consequently set very much closer together than in R. verniciflua. It is a native of Japan, E. and Central China, and Korea; it was in cultivation in France by 1881 but was probably not introduced to Britain until later. Even now it is uncommon in this country, but is available in commerce. The leaves usually colour red in the autumn.