Tree to 20 m. Branchlets reddish brown, somewhat angular. Leaves leathery, 7–15 × 2.5–5.5 cm, oblong or ovate to elliptic, upper surface silver-grey, lower surface velvety, with a silver bloom, 10–15 secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins serrulate or entire, apex acuminate, cuspidate or caudate; petiole 1.5–2.5 cm long. Staminate inflorescences catkin-like, to 13 cm long and in upper leaf axils. Pistillate inflorescences solitary and to 15 cm long. Cupules globose, 1.2–1.5 cm diameter, yellowish brown and completely (or almost completely) surrounding the nut; bracts scale-like, three- or four-angled. Nuts one (to three) per cupule, 1–1.4 cm diameter. Flowering April to May, fruiting October to November (China). Huang et al. 1999. Distribution CHINA: Anhui, Fujian, Guangxi, northeast Guizhou, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, eastern Sichuan, Zhejiang. Habitat Evergreen, broadleaved forest between 200 and 1000 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 7b. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Huang et al. 1999; NT220.
Castanopsis sclerophylla is probably better known under its synonyms, and in the United States has been distributed from botanic gardens and in the trade as Litho carpus chinensis. It seems to have been introduced in the late nineteenth century by the USDA Plant Introduction facility, perhaps to its southern station located near Savannah, Georgia (now Coastal Gardens). There are old, mature trees in this area, which have attractive tan-white, flaky bark (T. Lasseigne, pers. comm. 2006). Northwards, in our area, it seems to be limited by winter temperatures below –14 ºC, and is unusual. The only one seen in the research for this book is at the JC Raulston Arboretum, received there in 1989 and now 7–8 m tall, although badly suppressed by heavy shade from above. Despite this it seems to grow vigorously, and the species is obviously capable of making a handsome evergreen tree. The leaves are glossy dark green above, pale with very fine hairs below giving a metallic look, and toothed only in the upper third. Young trees from seed collected in Wuyishan, Fujian in 2003 are flourishing in Vancouver, and took the –9ºC and heavy snow of November 2006 in their stride (P. Wharton, pers. comm. 2007). There are young specimens in a few arboreta in Belgium (Kalmthout, Arboretum Waasland) and at Jardin botanique de la Roche Fauconnière, Cherbourg in France (Jan De Langhe, pers. comm. 2007). Although C. sclerophylla is offered at present by one UK nursery, as well as by several American nurseries and the inter national wholesale seed trade, no specimens have been seen in the British Isles – despite there being no apparent reason why it should not be cultivated here.