A tree up to 150 ft high in the wild; bark grey or purplish grey, fissured; buds ovoid, resinous; young shoots usually pale brown or yellowish grey, more or less hairy; leaf-pegs unusually long. Leaves four-angled, slightly broader than high in cross-section, 3⁄8 to 5⁄8 in. long, acute and bevelled at the apex, those on the upper side of the shoot pointed forward, the lower leaves more or less pectinately arranged, grey-green or dark green on the exposed side, glaucous or silvery on the ventral side. Cones ovoid, 2 to 21⁄2 in. long, 11⁄2 to 13⁄4 in. wide; cone-scales flexible, the upper part ovate, rounded, wavy, spreading outward after ripening.
P. likiangensis is of wide range in Western China and extends into Tibet; discovered by the French missionary Delavay in the Lichiang range of Yunnan in 1884. Forrest sent seeds from this area in 1910 (F.6746), but the first introduction was by Wilson six years earlier, from W. Szechwan (W.1834), when collecting for Messrs Veitch. Even from a single seed collection P. likiangensis varies considerably in the colour and degree of hairiness of the shoots, colour of the leaves, etc.
Although subject to damage by late frosts when young, this spruce grows well in the British Isles and deserves to be more commonly planted; at present it is rarely seen outside collections. The young cones and male flower-clusters are brilliant red. Some examples are: Wakehurst Place, Sussex, 56 × 51⁄4 ft (1969) and 59 × 5 ft (1968); Warnham Court, Sussex, from W.1834, 69 × 51⁄2 ft (1971); Borde Hill, Sussex, from F.6746, 56 × 51⁄4 ft (1968); National Pinetum, Bedgebury, Kent, pl. 1926, 48 × 61⁄4 ft (1968); Stanage Park, Radnor, pl. 191o, 71 × 6 ft (1970); Edinburgh Botanic Garden, from F.6746, 46 × 43⁄4 ft (1970); Powerscourt, Co. Wicklow, Eire, 68 × 61⁄4 ft (1966).
var. balfouriana (Rehd. & Wils.) E. H. Hillier P. balfouriana Rehd. & Wils. – This variety was described, as a species, from specimens collected by Wilson west of Tatsien-lu (Kangting) in 1910, during his second expedition for the Arnold Arboretum, but was not recognised as even varietally distinct from the type by A. B. Jackson. A. F. Mitchell has noted that the cultivated trees are really nearer to var. purpurea than to the type. These may be from W.4065, collected in the Pan-lan-shan, of which Rehder and Wilson remarked: ‘In general appearance this number suggests P. purpurea.’ There are trees in a few collections.
var. purpurea (Mast.) Dall. & Jacks. P. purpurea Mast. – Bark divided into rather thin, scaly plates; shoots very densely clad with long hairs. Leaves shorter than in the type, about 1⁄2 in. long, dark green on the exposed side, more closely appressed to the shoot. Cones mostly smaller, about 2 in. long (but occasionally up to 3 in.), violet-purple when young. Native of Kansu and N.W. Szechwan; discovered by Wilson in 1903 and introduced by him in 1910-11 from near Sungpan; it was reintroduced by Joseph Rock from Kansu. Some examples are: Wakehurst Place, Sussex, 70 × 31⁄4 and 56 × 41⁄2 ft (1974); Borde Hill, Sussex, Pinetum, 60 × 31⁄4 ft (1974); Vernon Holme, Kent, 60 × 41⁄4 ft (1973); Westonbirt, Glos., pl. 1931, 62 × 31⁄2 ft (1969).
P. montigena Mast. – A little-known species, possibly a hybrid between P. likiangensis and P. asperata; discovered by Wilson in 1903 in W. Szechwan. He may have sent seeds in the same year, and anyway did so in 1910-11, during his second expedition for the Arnold Arboretum (W.4084; this number is wrongly dated 1908 in Pl. Wils.). Some plants distributed under the name P. montigena proved to be a stunted form of P. asperata.