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A low dioecious shrub of fairly compact habit, usually under 3 ft high. Leaves on flowering shoots narrowly oblong-obovate or oblong-elliptic, rarely quite elliptic, 21⁄2 to 41⁄2 in. long, 1 to 11⁄2 in. wide, acute to slightly acuminate at the apex, tapering from the middle or slightly above it to a cuneate or roundish base, rich green above, aromatic when crushed; petiole green, 1⁄4 to 3⁄8 in. long. Inflorescence of male plants fairly lax, pyramidal, up to 4 in. long and up to 3 in. wide at the base on the stronger shoots. Flowers sweetly scented, opening in spring. Sepals five, semi-ovate or deltoid, obtuse. Petals five, cream-coloured, semi-erect. Stamens five, with orange anthers. Fruits not seen, purplish black on wild plants.
Native of the Sino-Himalayan region from central Nepal to western Szechwan; described by de Candolle in 1824 from a specimen collected in Nepal. So far as is known it is represented in cultivation only by male plants, and it is from one of these, part of a large planting at Kew by the Victoria Gate, that the above description is mainly drawn. The origin of the Kew clone is unrecorded, nor is anything known of the provenance of very similar plants at Borde Hill in Sussex. Seeds of S. laureola were sent by Wilson from W. Szechwan and were distributed under the synonymous name S. melanocarpa (though some specimens originally identified as S. melanocarpa are S. multinervia, for which see below).
S. laureola, in its female form, is unlikely to be of much ornamental value. But the male plants are very handsome, with their large trusses of creamy fragrant flowers. They are somewhat dwarfer than the common male clone of S. japonica, from which they differ in their yellowish white pentamerous flowers, which do not open so widely as in that species. They stand full sun, but should also flower well in shade.
S. multinervia Huang S. melanocarpa Rehd. & Wils. in part (excluding type) – Allied to S. laureola and, like it, black-fruited, this species (described in 1958) differs most markedly in its size. In the wild it is usually 10 to 20 ft high, bnt somtimes a tree 50 ft high. The leaves are about twice as long as in S. laureola, and the female inflorescences are as large and well-formed as those of male plants of that species or of S. japonica. There is an example 9 ft high in the Isabella Plantation, a woodland garden in Richmond Park near London, and younger propagations at Kew. S. multinervia ranges from eastern Nepal to western China, including Yunnan.
Further investigation by Nigel Taylor has shown that the plants at Kew identified as S. laureola are not that species but a garden hybrid between S. anquetilia and S. japonica, which bears a deceptively close resemblance to the true S. laureola. The description on page 374, then, is of a male clone of this hybrid, which has been given the clonal name ‘Kew Green’. The male plants at Borde Hill are also this hybrid and so too is the tall-growing clone mentioned under S. multinervia at the top of page 375; this, it should have been added, is female. The matter will be discussed by Nigel Taylor, and a botanical name provided for the cross, in a forthcoming issue of The Kew Magazine.
The true S. laureola is now in cultivation thanks to recent introductions from Nepal and from Mount Omei in western Szechwan, China.
S. multinervia – The true species was introduced from Nepal in 1976. The plant at Wakehurst Place from this introduction is a tetraploid with hermaphrodite flowers and has borne its black fruits.
As mentioned above, the plants cultivated in the Isabella Plantation and at Kew are not this species but a form of S. anquetilia × S. japonica.
† S. arborescens Gamble – This species was first described in 1916 though collected almost a century earlier by Wallich. A native of the eastern Himalaya, possibly extending as far as southern China, this makes a large shrub or small tree, with thin, rather bullate, acuminately tapered leaves up to 7 in. long; fruits black. It was introduced by Nigel Taylor from Nepal in 1981, but is of doubtful hardiness near London. At Wakehurst Place most of the young plants raised were killed by frost when planted out, but one has survived and is growing well.