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A tree up to 120 ft high in the wild, with a trunk 15 ft in girth; winter buds resinous; young shoots red-brown or purplish, glabrous or clad with dark hairs, the latter condition being found on weak shoots. Leaves 3⁄4 to 11⁄2 in. long, spreading in two or more horizontal ranks, those on the upper side half as long as the lower ones; notched at the apex, dark green above with two white bands of stomata beneath, each made up of nine or ten lines. Cones 2 to 31⁄2 in. long, purple or reddish brown, scarcely resinous, the slightly exposed portion of the bracts reflexed.
Originally discovered by Père Farges in E. Szechwan, China; Wilson introduced it from N.W. Hupeh, where, according to him, it was the commonest fir and remnants of old forests of it were still to be found. He also remarked that the trunks are of nearly uniform thickness for half their height and that the branches, though short, are very massive. Although Wilson first sent seed in 1901, and on two other occasions, this fir is extremely rare in Britain; the only specimen recorded is at Dawyck, Peebl., which first coned in 1940; it measured 53 × 21⁄2 ft in 1961. It is hardy in the N.E. United States, and there are good specimens there in the Hunnewell Arboretum and other collections.
There is really no significant difference between this species and A. sutchuenensis, which in Liu’s monograph reverts to its original status as a variety of A. fargesii and is included in it without distinction by Rushforth (Notes Roy. Bot. Gard. Edin., Vol. 43 (2), p. 269 (1986)). The leading characters of A. fargesii are the dark brown or purple shoots; buds thinly coated with resin; leaves pectinately arranged, often with median resin-channels; cones small (to about 3 in. long), with slightly exserted, reflexed bud-scales. With regard to the indumentum of the shoots, Liu distinguishes his A. fargesii var. faxoniana from typical A. fargesii mainly by its densely hairy shoots. However, Rushforth has pointed out that the indumentum of the shoots in A. fargesii varies on one and the same tree, weak shoots and those from the lower crown being densely pubescent and those from strong shoots of the upper and middle crown glabrous or almost so, and that in the type-collection of A. faxoniana preserved in the Arnold Arboretum herbarium the strong shoots are glabrous or pubescent and the weak ones densely pubescent.
A. fargesii is represented among older trees mainly by those raised from seed collected in Kansu by Rock and by Purdom, and grown as A. sutchuenensis. But the tree at Dawyck is from Wilson’s 4451, collected in Hupeh during his second expedition for the Arnold Arboretum. Trees grown as A. faxoniana would be A. fargesii only if raised from W.4060 (the type-number of A. faxoniana); most, perhaps all, are A. fabri subsp. minensis. It should be added that a few trees under the label A. fargesii are A. chengii (q.v. in this supplement). The following are true A. fargesii: Wakehurst Place, Sussex, 40 × 13⁄4 ft (1979); Hergest Croft, Heref., pl. 1923, 50 × 4 ft (1980); Benmore, Argyll, 52 × 21⁄2 ft (1983); Dawyck, Peebl., pl. 1924, 42 × 31⁄4 ft (1983); Burnside, Angus, pl. 1929, 52 × 21⁄2 ft (1974); Glentanar, Aberd., pl. 1925, 59 × 21⁄2 ft (1980); Altyre, Moray, 58 × 41⁄4 ft (1985); Tannadyce, Angus, 48 × 31⁄2 ft (1981); Birr Castle, Co. Offaly, Eire, on riverside, pl. 1933, 64 × 31⁄4 ft, and, in Arboretum, 56 × 21⁄2 ft (1980).