Sycopsis sinensis Oliver

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Lucy Garton


Owen Johnson (2024)

Recommended citation
Johnson, O. (2024), 'Sycopsis sinensis' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online ( Accessed 2024-06-25.

Common Names

  • Chinese Fighazel
  • Evergreen Ironwood


  • Distylium formosanum Kaneh.
  • Sycopsis formosana (Kaneh.) Kaneh. & Hatus.
  • Sycopsis sinensis subsp. formosana S.S. Ying
  • Sycopsis sinensis var. integrifolia Diels
  • Symplocos loii S.S. Ying

Other taxa in genus


    (botanical) All parts present and functional. Usually referring to both androecium and gynoecium of a flower.


    Owen Johnson (2024)

    Recommended citation
    Johnson, O. (2024), 'Sycopsis sinensis' from the website Trees and Shrubs Online ( Accessed 2024-06-25.

    Tree to 14 m, or a large shrub, with a dense and somewhat upright habit. Bark grey, smooth. Young twigs with lepidote scales, glabrescent. Leaf narrowly ovate to lanceolate, 5–12 × 2–4 cm, leathery, moderately glossy, very dark green above, with stellate hairs becoming confined to the underside; margin entire or with a few distant teeth; side veins in 6–7 pairs, usually rather sunken; petiole 8–18 mm, slightly warty. Inflorescence with 7–8 clustered flowers in a spike to 2 cm long, backed by bracts which are reddish brown, rounded and 6–8 mm long, with a stellate pubescence; sepals ovate; anthers yellowish to red, on yellow stamens; styles 5 mm long, coiled backwards. Seed-capsule ovate, 8–10 mm long, silky-hairy, backed by a persistent floral cup 3–4 mm deep and tipped by persistent styles 1–2 mm long; seeds 5–7 mm long. Flowering (in China) April–June, fruiting July–September. (Zhang, Zhang & Endress 2003; Bean 1981).

    Distribution  China Anhui, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Shaanxi, Sichuan, Yunnan, Zhejiang.Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Shaanxi, Sichuan, Taiwan, Yunnan, Zhejiang. Taiwan

    Habitat Evergreen mountain forests and thickets, 1300–1500 m asl, often dominated by Fagaceae and Lauraceae.

    USDA Hardiness Zone 7

    RHS Hardiness Rating H5

    Conservation status Not evaluated (NE)

    Sycopsis sinensis is not a spectacular tree, but it is a neat plant with something of the grace common to so many unrelated evergreens from the forests of south-eastern Asia – most of which are considerably less hardy or accommodating. The rather narrow habit, and the textured leaves with their often sunken veins, can suggest the familiar Mediterranean Viburnum tinus, as does its habit of flowering towards the end of winter. In common with most of its closest allies, its flowers lack petals or showy bracts – or any perfume – and they cluster discreetly among the leaves, but the rather long, yellow stamens make these clusters a little larger and brighter than is true for Parrotia or Distylium.

    The species, widespread in the wild, was one of Ernest Wilson’s numerous introductions, reaching Veitch’s nursery in England in 1901 (Bean 1981). In 2023, original plants survived at Kew and at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden; like many of its relatives this is a slow-growing but potentially long-lived tree and the Kew specimen, north-east of King William’s Temple, has several trunks up to 33 cm thick and remains in perfect health, in a sometimes testing microclimate. Another early English planting at Wakehurst Place was 10 m tall in 1997 when it was approaching the end of its life (Tree Register 2023). Sycopsis are equally happy in cooler and more humid summers, reaching 8 m at the Irish National Botanic Garden at Glasnevin and at Arduaine in western Scotland (Tree Register 2023). In the heat of the south-eastern United States it can tolerate full sun, and one massed planting offers an alternative attraction at Disney World in Florida (Dirr 2009). Their tolerance of chalky soils is probably limited.

    Sycopsis sinensis has never been a popular tree, and even when it is grown it is quite likely to get overlooked, but it remains available from specialist nurseries in western Europe, North America and New Zealand. Unlike some of its close relatives it does not self-seed in the climate of Cornwall, UK (Burncoose Nurseries 2023) but it can be propagated by means of cuttings from fairly well ripened wood (Bean 1981).

    The casual observer is unlikely to realise the close relationship between Sycopsis and Persian Ironwood, Parrotia persica, a decidous wide-spreading tree with a pretty flaking bark and excellent autumn colour, but the two have crossed to produce the horticultural curiosity ×Sycoparrotia semidecidua.

    'Little Leaf'

    A slow-growing selection with somewhat smaller leaves 5–10 cm long (De Bloei Meesters 2023).


    A sport with remarkably narrow leaves, c. 70 × 13 mm, selected by Mark Weathington at the J.C. Raulston Arboretum, North Carolina (J.C. Raulston Arboretum 2019). ‘PsyOps’ is a striking foliage plant, with a low dense habit, whose foliage may not suggest the species at all.


    A variegated cultivar; the leaf margin is lime-green in spring but fades (Dirr 2009). It is grown at the J.C. Raulston Arboretum in North Carolina, the current specimen originating as a cutting in 2002 (J.C. Raulston Arboretum 2023). Lawrence Hatch remarks that the textured leaf-surface typical of Sycopsis sinensis enhances this plant’s attractive subtleness (Hatch 2021–2022). The latinate cultivar name may not be valid.