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Tree (rarely a shrub) to 22 m. Branchlets slender and glabrous, grooved when young. Leaf buds pubescent, later glabrous. Leaves evergreen, simple, grouped towards the stem apices, 6–9(–12) × 3–5 cm, thin and leathery, elliptic to obovate though extremely variable, both surfaces glabrous, major veins prominent beneath, five to seven secondary veins on each side of the midvein, margins entire or sinuous, apex acute or acuminate; petiole 1–3(–4.5) cm long, glabrous; stipules to 0.5 cm long, pubescent and caducous. Flowers solitary, fascicled and hermaphrodite; axillary or in groups at the stem apex, with subtending leaves absent; 4-merous and to 1.2 cm long; petals white, slightly pubescent, divided into (two to) seven to eight segments, stamens 60–80. Fruit a red or brown capsule, 2–4 × 1.5–2.5 cm, with long, densely packed spines and several valves (three to seven), interior red or purple when ripe. Seeds with a yellow aril. Flowering June to October, fruiting August to October (China). Coode 1983, Tang & Chamlong 2005. Distribution CAMBODIA; CHINA: Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hainan, Hunan, Jiangxi, Zhejiang; LAOS; MYANMAR; THAILAND; VIETNAM. Habitat Evergreen forest, between 700 and 1000 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 9. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration NT787.
Sloanea sinensis was first introduced by the Guizhou Expedition of 1985 (Russell 1987). It entered commerce as one of Piroche Plants’ ‘Wild Dragon’ assortment in 1995 (Piroche Plants 2002–2005), and has since achieved a degree of ‘take-up’ by other American nurseries, but remains scarce. In Sean Hogan’s garden in Portland, Oregon it has achieved 3.5 m as an understorey plant, but Hogan considers that it is probably not hardy below –6ºC (pers. comm. 2007). A plant obtained from Piroche in 1999 by the JC Raulston Arboretum was a slender 1.8 m when seen in 2006, its single shoot having sprouted from the base of a stem that had previously been cut down. It was evidently not thriving, and has since been removed. Interest in the plant derives mainly from its evergreen leaves that flush bronze, and the spiny capsules that open to reveal a red or purple interior. It can be grown from seed, which is sometimes commercially available, or propagated by cuttings. A warm, sheltered site with reasonable moisture and fertility would seem to be appropriate.