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A deciduous tree 40 to 50 ft high; young shoots at first minutely downy, slender, yellowish, changing later to brownish grey and becoming glabrous. Leaves linear-lanceolate, slender-pointed, tapered at the base to a stalk 1⁄12 to 1⁄4 in. long, finely and regularly toothed (except those at the base of the shoot which are entire), 2 to 4 in. long, 1⁄3 to 3⁄5 in. wide, bright green above, glaucous beneath and soon quite glabrous. Female flowers in cylindrical spikes about 1 in. long with a few small entire leaves at the base, main-stalk downy. The flower is stalkless in the axil of an ovate bract two-thirds as long as the ovary which is glabrous or hairy, 1⁄8 in. long, topped by a dark stigma. Male flowers on short cylindrical catkins about 3⁄5 in. long, main-stalk villose; stamens two.
Native of the more arid parts of N. China (Inner Mongolia, Kansu, Shensi, Shansi, etc.) and widely cultivated in the north, growing excellently there and needing no water supply beyond the scanty summer rainfall (F. N. Meyer), but attaining its greatest dimensions at the foot of mountains and in the oases of Inner Mongolia. Its timber is, or was, put to many uses; the packing cases in which porcelain was sent to Europe were made from it, and it served for the construction of disposable boats, which were used to float the cotton crop down the rivers and then destroyed.
S. matsudana was introduced to Kew shortly after 1905 from the Arnold Arboretum, which had received cuttings in that year from a female tree, sent by J. G. Jack from either Korea or from near Peking. In 1913 another plant was received at Kew from the same source, also female, raised from cuttings sent by William Purdom in 1911 when collecting in N. China.
S. matsudana is very closely allied to S. babylonica, in which it has recently been included by the Russian authority A. K. Skvortsov – or rather reincluded, for S. matsudana is really part of S. babylonica as interpreted by earlier botanists, and was first separated from it by Koidzumi in 1915. The only difference between S. matsudana and typical S. babylonica that might be regarded as of specific value is that, according to Schneider, the female flowers of the former have two nectaries, against one (in the posterior position) in typical S. babylonica. However, this observation is not based on examination of a wide range of specimens. In S. fragilis the female flowers commonly have two nectaries, but the anterior nectary (between the ovary and the scale) is sometimes very small or altogether lacking, and it is very likely that S. babylonica-matsudana varies in the same way.