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Large shrub or small tree, 3–5(–10) m. Leaves trifoliolate, mid-green above, paler beneath, sometimes emerging with a bronze flush; lateral leaflets subsessile, petiolule of terminal leaflet 2–4 cm; leaflets 5–10 cm, oblong-lanceolate to elliptic, glabrous or densely pubescent on lower surface when young and pubescent along veins when mature, margin serrulate with hard teeth, apex narrowly acuminate. Inflorescence a broad, pendulous panicle, to 10 cm long, flowering before the leaves have fully emerged. Flowers c. 15 mm, white or soft rosy-pink. Capsule inflated to pear-shape, 4–5 × 2.5–3 cm, base narrow, apex truncate with 3 openings. Seeds shining brown. Flowering April–May, fruiting September (China). (Bean 1981, Li, Cai & Wen 2008).
Distribution China Anhui, Gansu, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hubei, Hunan, Shaanxi, Sichuan, E Xizang, SE Yunnan, Zhejiang.
Habitat Open forests on hillsides; 1200-2200 m.
USDA Hardiness Zone 6-9
RHS Hardiness Rating H6
Taxonomic note White-flowered plants with glabrous leaves are regarded as var. holocarpa, and plants with pubescent leaves and persistently pinkish flowers as var. rosea, but the buds of var. holocarpa may also be pink-tinged. It seems to be a tenuous distinction.
S. holocarpa ranks alongside S. colchica for garden-worthiness, with plants bearing long panicles of flowers from an early age and when in full flower a large plant is spectacular. Like many species it can sucker, affording easy propagation material, but it can also be trained into the form of a small tree. It was introduced by E.H. Wilson in 1908, collecting for the Arnold Arboretum; although no Wilson plants remain there the collection currently includes wild-origin material from Shaanxi (Petterson, Sjoman & Zetterlund 040), and derived from a cultivated plant growing on Emei Shan (Del Tredici & Li OS12) (Arnold Arboretum records). Needham 3625 is grown at Dawyck Botanic Garden – RBG Edinburgh’s regional garden in the Scottish borders.
An ornamental clone with very pale pink flowers. The foliage is glabrous.
Leaflet blades densely pubescent on abaxial surface when young and pubescent along veins when mature. Flowers rosy to pinkish. Li, Cai & Wen (2008)
RHS Hardiness Rating: H6
Also introduced by Wilson in 1908, this is said to have become the more widely grown variety, but Bean (1981) points out that the commonly cultivated selection known as ‘Rosea’ lacks the supposedly distinctive pubescence of var. rosea. This may be a case of ‘paper speciation’ with authors keen to find distinctions that do not really exist, and indeed in their own description Rehder and Wilson (in Sargent 1916) express doubt as to the inclusion of some material cited within their new taxon.
As widely grown ‘Rosea’ it has a strong bronze tint to the new foliage and clean pale pink flowers, though the pigment is concentrated in the sepals. Better forms are recognised and these should be named as distinct cultivars.