A handsome deciduous tree reaching 60 to 70 ft in height in China, and at present more than half as high in Britain; young branchlets downy; old bark peeling off in long strips. Leaves pinnate, 1 to 2 ft long, composed of from five to twelve pairs of leaflets, often of even numbers on one leaf (paripinnate). Leaflets very shortly stalked, 21⁄2 to 4 in. long, ovate-lanceolate, the apex drawn out into a long fine point, the base unequal at each side the midrib, ultimately nearly or quite glabrous. Flowers in terminal panicles 1 ft long, whitish, fragrant, short-stalked. Fruit a capsule about 1 in. long; seeds winged.
Although known to botanists since 1743, this tree was not introduced to Europe until 1862. It was at first called “Ailanthus flavescens”, but is easily distinguished from true Ailanthus by the entire margins of the leaflets and the absence of glandular teeth there. It is a native of N. and W. China, and in the latter region many seeds were collected by Wilson on his last journey. As is the case with nearly all trees of timber-producing size, this is best raised from seed, but failing them, root-cuttings may be employed. It is said to thrive well in calcareous soils. The young shoots and leaves have an oniony taste and are boiled and eaten as a vegetable by the Chinese. By far the largest specimen recorded grows at Heligan, Cornwall, which measures 90 × 81⁄4 ft (1959). Others are: Nettlecombe, Somerset, 65 × 71⁄2 ft (1959); Kew, pl. 1907, 52 × 61⁄4 ft(1965). The tree in the Berberis Dell at Kew first flowered in 1947.