Tree to 15 m. Bark grey. Branchlets purple with sparse, white pubescence or glabrous. Leaves deciduous, 4–8 × 1.5–2.5 cm, primarily lanceolate, upper surface with dense pubescence along the midrib, lower surface villous along the veins and with tufts of hair in the axils of the veins, 16–20 secondary veins on each side of the midvein, margins regularly double-serrate, apex acuminate to caudate; petiole sparsely pubescent or not, 0.5–1 cm long. Monoecious; staminate inflorescences catkin-like, solitary, 1 cm long; pistillate inflorescences catkin-like, pedunculate, 3–6 × 1–2 cm, sparsely pubescent. Flowers inconspicuous; bracts imbricate and ovate, 0.8–1.5 × 0.5 cm, with five veins, margins slightly dentate to entire. Fruit a nutlet with sparse pubescence and longitudinal ribs. Flowering May to June, fruiting July to September (China). Rushforth 1985, Li & Skvortsov 1999. Distribution CHINA: Fujian, northern Guandong, Guizhou, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Shaanxi, northeast Sichuan, Zhejiang. Habitat Subtropical forest or scrub between 400 and 2300 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 7–8. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Li & Skvortsov 1999. Cross-reference K282. Taxonomic note Has formerly been confused with C. turczaninowii var. ovalifolia.
Carpinus polyneura is another exceptional tree new to cultivation, although it remains rare. As a young plant it is often characterised by its slender appearance and long pendulous shoots, that strongly resemble the improbable trees of ‘willow pattern’ chinaware, but are rather more elegant. These long shoots are made more attractive by the red new leaves at their tips, the long, pointed leaves being also strongly veined. There is a nice 4 m specimen at Herkenrode, from a commercial source. At Kew a plant grown from Shanghai Botanic Garden seed originating in Sichuan in 1992 is 3 m tall, but has a denser habit than most. Koen Camelbeke (pers. comm. 2006) notes that C. polyneura is susceptible to drought, and that the leaves are late to fall.