A tree said to attain a height of about 40 ft in the wild; branchlets hairy at least until autumn. Leaves oblong or oblong-ovate, up to 3[1/2] in. long and 1[1/2] in. wide, glossy above, downy on the veins beneath, doubly serrate; petioles villous or tomentose, up to [3/8] in. long. Fruiting catkins lax, to about 6 in. long; peduncles downy; bracts semi-ovate, obtuse, about [3/4] in. long, deeply toothed or lobulate on the broader side, the narrower side entire or faintly toothed, sometimes with an infolding at the base. Nutlets downy.
This species was described in 1899 from a specimen collected by Henry in Yunnan and is now in cultivation from seeds collected by Roy Lancaster near Kunming, also in Yunnan. Specimens identified as C. seemeniana were collected by Wilson in western Hupeh in 1907, but there is no record of his having introduced it, though he collected fruiting specimens. In the introduced form the leaves vary from obtuse through acute to acuminate at the apex and the young twigs bear rather sparse, long, spreading hairs. The leaves are bright bronze-red when young.
C. pubescens belongs to a group of east Asiatic hornbeams in which the fruit-involucres are markedly asymmetrical, the broader, outer side strongly toothed, the narrower, inner side almost entire, but varying in the presence or absence of a basal lobe or infolding on the narrower side. The marginal teeth of the leaves in this group are not prolonged into a slender point as they are in C. tschonoskii, which is essentially similar in its involucres. Some species in this group now in cultivation, or introduced in the past, are:
C. fargesiana Winkler – This was mentioned on page 510 under C. tschonoskii, with which Winkler at first confused it.
C. henryana. – This is treated on page 507. It seems to be quite closely allied to C. pubescens, but the leaves are simply toothed, not glossy above, and the fruit-clusters are shorter.
† C. kawakamii Hayata – A native of the higher mountains of Formosa (Taiwan), now in cultivation at Kew. The leaves are remarkably slender, up to 3[1/4] in. long but barely 1 in. wide. Nutlets glandular but scarcely downy.
† C. shensiensis Hu – This was described in 1948 from a specimen collected in Shensi (Shaanxi) and was stated by Hu to be very closely allied to C. fargesiana. Unverified plants under this name are in cultivation from seeds received from the Shanghai Botanic Garden.