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This genus, once included in the Theaceae (Ternstroemiaceae), now ranks as a separate family, of which it is the only member. Leaves deciduous; stipules present, but minute and soon falling. Flowers bisexual in axillary racemes, formed in autumn and opening in spring before the leaves. Sepals and petals four, imbricated. Stamens eight, in two whorls. Ovary four-chambered with numerous axile ovules (interpreted by some botanists as one-chambered, with the ovules arranged on parietal placentae which grow out from the wall of the ovary and meet in the centre). Style short, simple, with a capitate stigma. Fruit a leathery many-seeded berry. It is a small genus, with about ten species in E. Asia.
Of the species treated here, only S. praecox and S. chinensis are frequently planted, and both are hardy. They prefer an acid, humus-rich soil, but are said to be lime-tolerant; it is always advisable to add peat or leaf-mould to the soil when planting, especially if it is on the heavy side. A sunny or half-shaded position is necessary. Propagation is by cuttings made of fairly firm wood taken in July with a heel attached, and placed in gentle heat.
The genus is reviewed by H.-L. Li in Bull. Torr. Bot. Club, Vol. 70 (1943), pp. 615–28.