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An evergreen tree up to 120 ft high in a wild state, with a trunk up to 16 ft in girth; bark dark grey or reddish brown; young shoots without down, glossy, yellowish grey; winter buds ovoid, very resinous. Leaves 1⁄2 to 11⁄2 in. long, very much recurved, sharply pointed on young trees, abruptly so on adult ones; lustrous green on both surfaces but paler beneath where are eight or nine faintly defined rows of stomata on each side of the midrib. Cones oblong-ovoid, 2 to 4 in. long, violet-purple at first, finally grey-brown, slightly resinous; bracts entirely hidden.
Native of W. Szechwan, China, where Wilson discovered it in the valley of the Min River in 1903 and introduced it to cultivation in 1910. This fir is very distinct on account of the strongly recurved, sharply pointed leaves, especially characteristic of young shoots. Wilson observes that ‘this species is one of the most desirable of the family and was well worth a long journey to introduce it to cultivation’.
The tree in the Little Hall Pinetum mentioned in previous editions cannot now be traced but there are several thriving specimens in the country. The younger may be from seed collected by Rock in 1925; the oldest are from Wilson’s introduction: Tilgate, Sussex, pl. 1913, 66 × 31⁄4 ft (1961); Wakehurst Place, Sussex, 58 × 23⁄4 and 46 × 11⁄2 ft (1964), and another, pl. 1919, 40 × 21⁄2 ft (1964); Tilgate Forest Lodge, Sussex, 42 × 2 and 40 × 3 ft (1961); Westonbirt, Glos., 42 × 21⁄2 ft (1965); Gordon Castle, Moray, 41 × 31⁄4 ft (1958).
This species also occurs in north-east Yunnan and Kansu, and belongs to the same group as A. delavayi. The character to which it owes its specific epithet is the tendency of the leaves on the upper surface of the shoot to point backwards, but this is not a constant character of the species, either in the wild or on cultivated trees. The greenish stomatal bands are a distinctive feature, and so too is the bark, which (a fact not mentioned in the description) flakes as in the related A. squamata, though the flakes are smaller.
specimens: Wakehurst Place, Sussex, pl. 1919, 46 × 4 ft (1980) and 62 × 4 ft (1979); Borde Hill, Sussex, in Gores Wood, 56 × 31⁄2 ft (1981); Abbotswood, Glos., pl. 1916, 72 × 51⁄4 ft and 66 × 43⁄4 ft (1983); Bicton, Devon, pl. 1918, 67 × 43⁄4 ft (1977); Werrington Park, Cornwall, 44 × 41⁄2 ft (1971); Stanage Park, Powys, 60 × 31⁄2 ft (1978); Burnside, Angus, pl. 1929, 50 × 31⁄4 ft and, pl. 1934, 50 × 21⁄2 ft (1974); Gordon Castle, Moray, the tree mentioned in the main work is not this species but A. firma; Clandeboye, Co. Down, 54 × 3 ft (1976); Powerscourt, Co. Wicklow, Eire, 66 × 6 ft (1980).
var. ernestii (Rehd.) Kuan A. beissneriana Rehd., not Mottet; A. ernestii Rehd.; A. chensiensis auct., in part, not van Tieghen; A. chensiensis var. ernestii (Rehd.) Liu – Almost identical to typical A. recurvata in its cones, differing mainly in its longer leaves, deeply notched at the apex on sterile shoots.
When describing this fir, Rehder compared it with A. chensiensis, and other botanists have included it in that species without distinction or as a variety. Keith Rushforth, however, has pointed out that its correct position is under A. recurvata, its kinship with which has been obscured by the belief that recurved leaves are a leading feature of this species (Notes Roy. Bot. Gard. Edin., Vol.41, pp. 535-40 (1984)). The combination A. recurvata var. ernestii was made by Mr Rushforth in this article, but he has since pointed out to us that the Chinese botanist Kuan published the same combination a few months earlier in Volume II of the Flora of Szechwan.