Tree to 20 m. Bark dark grey to brown, smooth or rarely scaly. Branchlets purplish brown and glabrous. Leaves deciduous, 6–27 × 2.5–8 cm, ovate-lanceolate, upper surface glabrous, lower surface with minor pubescence on the veins and tufts of hair in the vein axils, 24–34 secondary veins on each side of the midvein, margins irregularly double-serrate, apex acuminate; petiole glabrous, 1.5 cm long. Monoecious; staminate inflorescences catkin-like and solitary, 5–12 cm long, bracts distinct, to 0.5 cm long; pistillate inflorescences catkin-like, solitary and pedunculate, oblong to cylindrical, to 45–50 × 3–4 cm, densely pubescent. Flowers inconspicuous; bracts densely imbricate, elliptic, papery, 1.8–2.5 × 1–1.2 cm, with five veins from base, margins serrated. Fruit a nutlet with longitudinal ribs. Flowering May to June, fruiting July to September (China). Rushforth 1986b, Li & Skvortsov 1999. Distribution CHINA: northern Guangxi, Guizhou, Sichuan, eastern Yunnan. Habitat Lower montane forest, in shady valleys between 900 and 2000 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 7–8. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Li & Skvortsov 1999, Wharton et al. 2005; NT201. Cross-reference K280.
Carpinus fangiana is one of the most attractive of recently introduced trees and should be widely planted. It combines handsome ridged foliage (emerging purple-bronze) with large, pale, pendulous fruit clusters, and a tree in full fruit is a fine sight (Wharton et al. 2005). There is a beauty near the entrance to the David C. Lam Asian Garden in Vancouver; as with so many hornbeams grown in full sun, this one is at present broader than it is tall (approximately 6 m tall). It was grown (as were others in the same garden) from a Shanghai Botanic Garden collection (SBG 270) made in 1986 at 1100 m in northwestern Hunan, where the parents were growing in mixed forest in an open rocky area. Peter Wharton (pers. comm. 2006) noted that it enjoys a slightly higher pH as a result of mulching with mushroom compost containing lime. This provenance seems to have given rise to much more amenable plants than those from Sichuan introduced by the Sichuan Expedition of 1991 (SICH 842), from 10 m trees growing at 2130 m on the Erlang Shan. Just one of these survives at Kew, only 2.5 m tall and rather narrow in width in 2006, and showing signs of stress from the hot, dry summer conditions of that year. Accessions from the 1986 Shanghai Botanic Garden collection are equal front-runners for the title ‘first in British cultivation’ with plants from that of Mikinori Ogisu (Ogisu 91103), made at Leibo in southwestern Sichuan in the same year and credited by Hillier & Coombes (2002) as the first introduction to the United Kingdom. The finest specimen of this Ogisu collection is in Roy Lancaster’s garden; planted as a seedling in 1992, it is now 4.5 m tall there and fruiting, its long fruiting spikes resembling ‘pale green lemur tails’ (R. Lancaster, pers. comm. 2006). There is a still-small specimen (1.8 m) from the same collection at the Hillier Gardens, and it is also grown in several private gardens and available from UK nurseries. It is tempting to think of C. fangiana as a small tree, but Peter Wharton (pers. comm. 2006) reported seeing individuals in Sichuan of over 20 m, ‘with colossal girths’.