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A deciduous tree up to 40 ft high; young shoots felted at first, the lenticels numerous and distinct. Leaves obovate to oval, pointed, tapered at the base, finely toothed, 21⁄2 to 5 in. long, 11⁄4 to 21⁄2 in. wide, of firm rather leathery texture, dark glossy green above, paler beneath, at first shaggy, afterwards quite glabrous on both surfaces, veins in seven to ten pairs; leaf-stalk 1⁄4 in. or less long. Flowers white, 3⁄8 in. wide, produced in rounded or pyramidal clusters 2 in. across at the end of short leafy twigs; stalks woolly; petals broadly oval; stamens twenty; styles two or three, united near the base. Fruits flattish orange-shaped, 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 in. wide, dull green, spotted with pale dots; the calyx falls away from the top and leaves a broad circular pit or scar there. Blooms in April.
Native of central, western and southwest China, northern Burma and southeast Tibet; introduced by Wilson in 1904 for Messrs Veitch from W. Szechwan, and reintroduced by Forrest from Yunnan in 1931. This fine species has become rare in gardens. It ‘… is one of the first of the Sorbus to open its buds, in mid-April. The glossy young leaves, of an unusual yellowish green in the early spring, retain as they mature a fresh green colour so that by mid-November the tree looks like an evergreen.’ (Fox MS). The plant in the Winkworth Arboretum, to which Dr Fox referred, attained a height of about 20 ft and bore fruits, but died in the late 1960s. The flowers are very fragrant, an unusual feature in this genus, but drop their petals after barely more than a day.
S. keissleri belongs to the section Micromeles, but is not closely related to any other cultivated member of that group.