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Tree to 20 m. Bark grey, developing almost black longitudinal fissures with age. Twigs 2–4 mm thick, bright green, glabrous, and sometimes with a bluish waxy bloom. Bud no thicker than the shoot, almost spherical, glabrous, with two visible scales of almost equal length. Leaves flushing crimson, with relatively short glabrous stalks (2.5–6 cm); 7–13.5 x 5–11 cm, ovate to almost triangular; upper surface dark, shiny green, glabrous, lower surface pale green or glaucous, glabrous or covered with reddish stellate hairs which mostly have 16 arms; margins sometimes entire or with large, irregular, spiky teeth or lobes. Floral bract 6.5–13 x 1.5–3 cm, diverging from the flower stalk near the base, with a variable stellate pubescence; often broadest towards each end; stalk of bract to 3 cm long. Inflorescences drooping, widely branched, with 8–32 deeply cup-shaped flowers; staminodes present. Fruit globose, initially fleshy, with a fragile wall which splits longitudinally into five segments to release the ripe seeds (Pigott 2012, Flora of China 2018).
Distribution China Anhui, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan, Jiangxi, Zhejiang
Habitat Forests, in valleys with well-drained soils
USDA Hardiness Zone 8
RHS Hardiness Rating H4
Tilia endochrysea is a primitive species in the genus, with the peduncle joined to the floral bract only at its base, and a dehiscent fruit. The rather triangular leaves with just a few large and irregular tooth (or lobes) is also distinctive. It is extremely rare in cultivation, having apparently been introduced only once, and represented by a single clone. The few semi-mature trees known [IN THE UK] (in private collections, at Kew, and in the Cambridge University Botanic Garden) are derived from scion wood collected by Donald and Sheila Pigott in the Wuzhi Shan, Guangdong in 1993 (Pigott 2006). The leaves of these trees open a dark crimson and become dark green above with dense grey-white stellate hairs below, but variability was noted in the wild population. Seed from the same area sadly failed to germinate. Young plants have so far proved hardy in British conditions, usually breaking bud late enough to avoid significant frost damage, but in north-western England it has been defoliated by strong winds (Pigott 2006). The tree planted by Pigott in the relatively continental climate of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden had grown well to 8 m x 14 cm dbh by 2014 (Tree Register 2018).
In recent years it has been offered for sale by specialist nurseries in the UK from which it has subsequently been introduced to collections elsewhere, for example to continental Europe at Arboretum Wespelaar (accession 13114) where it is growing well (Arboretum Wespelaar 2019), and to North America, for example Bartlett Tree Experts, who aquired material in 2015 ( http://rbg-web2.rbge.org.uk/multisite/multisite3.php).