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A coarse-growing, vigorous shrub, or a tree up to 50 ft high, forming a roundish, spreading head of branches; young wood thickly downy, soft and pithy. Leaves very variable in size and form, ovate or variously lobed, often shaped like fig leaves; rounded, or more or less tapered at the base, pointed, toothed, three-nerved at the base; upper surface dull green and rough, lower surface densely woolly till they fall; stalk 1 to 4 in., long. Flowers of the male plant in cylindrical often curly, woolly catkins, 11⁄2 to 3 in. long, 1⁄4 in. wide; female flowers in ball-like heads 1⁄2 in. in diameter. Fruit red. Bot. Mag., t. 2358.
Native of China and Japan; introduced early in the eighteenth century. It is now widely cultivated in Eastern countries; in Japan chiefly for the manufacture of paper from the bark, and in the Polynesian islands for the fibre, which is made into a cloth. Capt. Cook noticed in Otaheite that the finest and whitest cloth worn by the principal inhabitants was made from this material. In some of the Dalmatian towns, especially at Spalato (Split), I have seen it as a street tree of neat, rounded shape. The lobed leaves mostly occur on young vigorous trees, the unlobed ones on flowering specimens.