Shrub or tree to 15 m, 1.2 m dbh. Bark reddish or greyish brown. Crown broad, open and rounded or spreading. Leafy branchlets yellowish brown though becoming reddish brown after several years, elliptical to oblong in outline, 5–12(–18) × 4–8(–10) cm with leaves held at 50°–85° to the axis, either perpendicular to or directed forward along the axis. Vegetative buds ovoid and acute, persistent. Leaves with petiole 0.1–2.5 cm long; shiny green, soft and leathery, arranged in two loose ranks, (1–)1.8–5(–7) × 0.2–0.4 cm, linear and straight or slightly falcate, tapering towards the apex, though only slightly, margins parallel, midrib prominent on both adaxial and abaxial surfaces, apex acute and mucronate or long and acuminate. Abaxial stomata in two white (rarely green) bands, each 0.8–1.2 mm wide and separated by the midrib, (12–)13–15(–18) lines of stomata in each band; leaves with prominent margins, 0.1–0.3 mm wide. Male strobili in capitula of six to seven, each strobilus with 4–11 microsporophylls. Capitula in leaf axils along the entire length of the branchlets, globose and 4–7 mm diameter, pedunculate; peduncle 3 mm long, naked or with a few apical bracts. Cones produced in axils of terminal buds, solitary or in groups of two to five (to eight), peduncle 0.3–0.8 cm long; aril green when immature, turning red or purple when ripe, 1.6–2.5 × 0.8–1.6 cm with six prominent, longitudinal ridges, mature in the second year. Seeds obovoid to ellipsoid, 1.8–2.5 × 0.9–1.2 cm, apex cuspidate or mucronate. Fu et al. 1999a. Distribution CHINA: from eastern China to Sichuan and Yunnan in the west and Henan in the north. Habitat Dense or open mixed woodland in valley bottoms, between 600 and 3200 m asl. Found in soils over a variety of bedrocks, from granite to limestone. USDA Hardiness Zone 7. Conservation status Lower Risk. Illustration Fu et al. 1999a; NT234. Cross-references B574, K68.
Bean (1976a) gives a brief note on Cephalotaxus sinensis, indicating that it was first introduced by Robert Fortune (1812–1880), whose collectors muddled the seed with that of C. fortunei. Wilson noted that it was a common plant in Hubei and Sichuan, especially ‘in rough, steep, limestone regions’ (Sargent 1913). Despite these early introductions, however, it remains an obscure plant, probably often confused with other taxa in cultivation. There is an old specimen of C. sinensis from Wilson 267, collected in 1908, at Edinburgh, and a plant propagated from this is at Wakehurst Place. As with the more familiar C. harringtonii, with which it has been confused, it does well in the southern and eastern parts of the United States, and there are vigorous young specimens at the US National Arboretum (forming a small bushy tree of 2.5 m in 2006) and at the JC Raulston Arboretum. Dan Hinkley, writing in the 2005 Heronswood Nursery catalogue, considers it to be ‘eminently worth cultivating’, and says that it will form a round-topped small tree up to c.5 m. It is not fully hardy at Rogów Arboretum, but the trees there fruit regularly (P. Banaszczak, pers. comm. 2007).