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Shrub or tree to 12 m. Branchlets initially covered in dense yellowish red tomentum, later almost glabrous; branchlets covered with large leaf abscission scars giving a knobbly appearance. Leaves evergreen, alternate, 7–15(–25) × 2–8 cm, oblong to elliptic (rarely obovate), thick and leathery, upper surface shiny yellowish green and glabrous, lower surface pale green with tawny or ferruginous tomentum and prominent venation, 8–12 secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins entire and recurved, apex obtuse; petiole 1.5–3.5 cm long and densely covered with brown tomentum. Inflorescences axillary, umbels solitary with tomentose bracts; flowers tomentose and ~1 cm diameter; staminate flowers with deciduous tepals and nine fertile stamens. Pistillate flowers with nine staminodes. Fruit purplish blue and ellipsoidal, 1.5–2 × 1.5 cm, sitting in a shallow disc-shaped cupule. Flowering August to October, fruiting February to May (Japan). Ohwi 1965, Walker 1976. Distribution JAPAN: Honshu, Kyushu, Ryukyu Is., Shikoku; SOUTH KOREA. Habitat Montane and humid pine-oak forest between 800 and 2800 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 8–9. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Walker 1976. Cross-reference K229.
Of the three species described here, Litsea japonica is probably the most widely cultivated, although it could certainly not be described as common. There are scattered records of it in cultivation in the United States, where Woodlanders Nursery in Aiken, South Carolina claim to have introduced it (Woodlanders 2007–2008). In Europe, as might be expected, it is found in a few Cornish gardens, including Tregrehan and Tresco Abbey on the Isles of Scilly, and in Ireland. At Glasnevin it is grown against a warm wall, and although the specimen seen in 2006 was only 1.4 m tall it seemed to be thriving, with a dominant main stem forming from a shrubby base. The foliage is held upright in a distinctive posture and the upper surface of the leaves is somewhat glaucous, giving a bluish lustre. The undersides are densely covered in red-brown tomentum, which extends to the margin so that the ‘fur lining’ is visible from above. The buds, still small in September, are also densely pubescent.