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A deciduous shrub, up to 10 ft high, of wide-spreading habit; young shoots stout, quite glabrous, brownish green, changing by the second year to a dark shining brown; winter buds bright red. Leaves elliptic to elliptic-lanceolate, pointed, tapered at the base, finely toothed; 3 to 7 in. long, 11⁄4 to 5 in. wide, shining dark green above, wrinkled, and at first dull green beneath and silky hairy, especially on the midrib and veins; veins in fifteen to twenty-five pairs, deeply impressed above; stalk 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 in. long and of the same colour as the young shoots. Catkins erect on short, leafy, silky stalks; the females cylindric, up to 61⁄2 in. long, 1⁄4 in. in diameter, the males up to 41⁄2 in. long. Ovary glabrous, ovoid-cylindric; stigmas two, bilobed; bract oblong, rounded at the end, silky at the margin. Flowers in spring.
Native of central China; introduced by Wilson, who collected plants in W. Hupeh in November 1910 for the Arnold Arboretum, whence they (or cuttings from them) were distributed to Kew and other gardens. The plants came from woodlands near Fang Hsien at 6,000 to 8,000 ft, where S. fargesii, according to Wilson, makes a shrub 2 to 6 ft high and is often prostrate or procumbent (though in other localities he found it up to 10 ft high).
This fine, handsome willow is remarkable for its brightly coloured winter-buds, the dark glossiness of its younger bark, the large many-veined leaves, and slender, erect catkins. It is perfectly hardy, but the young growths are sometimes cut by frost. Most of the cultivated plants are female and probably belong to a clone originally distributed under the erroneous name S. hypoleuca. The species rightly so called (not treated here) was sent by Wilson under his number 4437, S. fargesii as number 4439.
S. fargesii is closely related to S. moupinensis (q.v.), and was described later. Schneider distinguished the two chiefly by two characters: in S. fargesii the rachis of the catkin and catkin-scales are densely long-hairy, glabrous or sparsely hairy in S. moupinensis; in S. fargesii the ovary is tapered into a long style, in S. moupinensis abruptly narrowed into a shorter style. Also the leaves of S. fargesii are more silky beneath; in S. moupinensis they are often quite glabrous. The young shoots of S. fargesii are stouter and the winter-buds larger, and, on the whole the marginal toothing of the leaves is finer than in S. moupinensis. The two are also separated geographically, S. moupinensis west of the Red Basin, in the Sino-Himalayan floristic region, S. fargesii east of the Red Basin, in E. Szechwan and Hupeh.