A small or medium-sized deciduous tree, with pinnate leaves, 6 to 12 in. long, branchlets with a solid pith. Leaflets five to fifteen, stalkless, ovate-lanceolate, obliquely wedge-shaped or rounded at the base, long and taper-pointed, sharply and often doubly toothed, 11⁄2 to 41⁄2 in. long, 1⁄2 to 11⁄4 in. wide, with at first scattered hairs above and along the midrib and veins beneath, becoming glabrous later. Flowers unisexual, both sexes borne on the same tree, but on separate inflorescences; sepals and petals absent. Male catkins slender, cylindrical, drooping at the tip, 2 to 31⁄2 in. long, borne four to twelve together in a hairy panicle at the end of the young growths; female inflorescence terminal, surrounded by the male catkins, erect, usually solitary, 11⁄4 in. long, 1 in. wide, resembling a cone. In both sexes the flowers are produced in the axils of small, lanceolate scales, followed in the female by tiny winged nutlets which, with the wings, are only 1⁄8 to 1⁄6 in. across.
Native of Japan, Formosa, Korea, and China; introduced by Fortune from China in 1845 (a ‘cone’ had been sent to Britain some years earlier by Dr Cantor from Chusan, but this was seedless). Wilson found it in the Ichang area of Hupeh during his first and third expeditions to China and probably sent seeds in 1907. According to him it is usually a shrub or small tree in that area, only rarely seen up to 40 ft high. The Fortune introduction was not reliably hardy, but it is impossible to generalise about the hardiness of a species so widely distributed in the wild and so rare in gardens. In H. G. Hillier’s collection at Jermyns House, Romsey, it grows well and bears fruit.