A deciduous tree 20 ft high, with glabrous branchlets. Leaves three-lobed or occasionally with two additional basal lobes; 3 to 6 in. long, and as much wide, the base slightly heart-shaped; lobes pointing forward, triangular, coarsely toothed; leaf-stalk often about as long as the blade. There are tufts of down in the vein-axils. Flowers yellowish green, in racemes 1 to 2 in. long from the joints of the previous season's wood; stalks downy. Fruit with slightly hairy nutlets; keys 2 in. long; wings 5⁄8 to 3⁄4 in. wide, spreading at nearly right angles.
Native of Central China; introduced in 1901 for Messrs Veitch by Wilson. There is a tree in the Edinburgh Botanic Garden 17 ft high, raised from W. 337 and planted in 1908, which thrives and frequently fruits (1965). Two examples from Forrest's seed grow at Caerhays Castle, Cornwall. They measure 29 × 21⁄2 and 32 × 21⁄2 ft, with boles of 8 and 10 ft respectively (1966).
A. villosum Wall. – This is really the Himalayan equivalent of the preceding and so closely allied that it is difficult to find any reliable character by which they can be distinguished. If they were merged, it would be under the name A. villosum. It has been in cultivation off and on for more than a century and said to be fairly hardy. But much would depend on the source of the seed; West Himalayan forms are likely to be the hardiest. Cultivated specimens of A. villosum differ from A. franchetii in their larger leaves (up to 10 in. long and wide).
A. thomsonii Miq. A. villosum var. thomsonii (Miq.) Hiern – This is very distinct from the preceding in its leaves. The additional basal lobes seen in the other two species are scarcely discernible, and the main side lobes are very short; keys up to 3 in. long. Native of the E. Himalaya. Seed from Sikkim distributed as “A. villosum” may produce this species. Probably tender.
From the Supplement (Vol. V)
specimens: Caerhays, Cornwall, from F.29083, 35 × 3 ft and 40 × 31⁄2 ft (1984); Dyffryn Gardens, near Cardiff, 28 × 33⁄4 ft at ground level (1979); Edinburgh Botanic Garden, 23 × 21⁄4 ft (1985); Dawyck, Peebl., 31 × 21⁄2 ft (1982).
[A. villosum] – The correct name for this species is A. sterculiaceum Wall. (A. villosum Wall., not Presl). It has a wide distribution in the Himalaya as far east as Assam, and it is possible that intermediates between it and A. franchetii occur in south-west China, since in Alan Mitchell's opinion the Caerhays trees under the latter name, from Yunnan seed, look more like A. sterculiaceum than A. franchetii.
The best specimen in Britain by far grows at Westonbirt, Gloucestershire, in the Savill Glade, a vigorous tree with a hard leaf planted 1942 and measuring 50 × 33⁄4 ft (1980); another of the same planting date is 44 × 23⁄4 ft (1980) and a third is 38 × 21⁄4 ft (1976). Apart from these, the only specimens are: Hillier Aboretum, Ampfield, Hants, pl. 1957, 28 × 21⁄2 ft (1983); Nymans, Sussex, Wild Garden, 59 × 11⁄2 ft (1985); Abbotsbury, Dorset, 34 × 13⁄4 ft (1980).
There have been two reintroductions in recent years: by the University of North Wales Expedition to East Nepal (B.L. & M. 307) and by A. D. Schilling under his number 2284 (1977).