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A tree 40 to 50 ft high, with a scaly, furrowed bark; young shoots slightly hairy at first; terminal winter buds large, 5⁄8 in. long. Leaves 21⁄2 to 51⁄2 in. long, 11⁄2 to 31⁄4 in. wide; taper-pointed, deeply heart-shaped at the base, unequally or doubly toothed; hairy on the midrib above, more so beneath; stalk 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 in. long. Male catkins 1 to 2 in. long, the scales linear, 1⁄6 in. long, silky-hairy. Fruit-catkins 3 to 5 in. long, 11⁄2 in. wide; the bracts closely overlapping, ovate, sparsely and sharply toothed, 1 to 11⁄8 in. long, with one side doubled over. The nut is covered partly by this infolded portion, but more completely by a lobe of the bract attached to the base at the other side.
Native of Japan; introduced in 1879 by Maries for Veitch’s nurseries. Sargent considered it to be the finest of the Japanese hornbeams but in this country it is of rather slow growth and not common. The best tree at Kew measures 29 × 13⁄4 ft. It is very distinct from its ally, C. japonica, in the large, deeply cordate leaves and big winter buds, but is similar in the curious way the nut is protected by basal portions of the bract infolding over it.
This species was described by Bean (B506) and Krüssmann (K280).
Var. chinensis differs from the type variety in that its branchlets, petioles and inflorescences are densely villous, rather than glabrous, and in this respect it resembles var. mollis (Rehder) W.C. Cheng ex Chun. It differs from the latter in that the veins on the lower leaf surface are sparsely pubescent rather than densely pubescent. Var. mollis is restricted to Gansu, Ningxia and Shaanxi, while the type variety is found in northeast China, Japan, Korea and eastern Russia. Li & Skvortsov 1999. Distribution CHINA: Anhui, southeast Gansu, Guizhou, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, southwest Shaanxi, Sichuan, Zhejiang. Habitat Montane forest between 700 and 2400 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 7. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Li & Skvortsov 1999; NT203. Cross-references B507, K280.
A brief note in Bean (1976a) suggests that Wilson introduced Carpinus cordata var. chinensis in 1901, but this introduction seems not to have become established. The plant’s reintroduction – so far successful – was achieved from the Kew-led 1999 expedition to Sichuan, under the numbers SICH 1775, 2023 and 2078. Later expeditions have also collected seed. The parent from which SICH 2078 was collected was a 9 m specimen growing at the edge of mixed secondary woodland in the Gwangwu Shan: the tree could become larger than this in good conditions. Seedlings from these collections have been distributed quite widely. The examples at Kew are still small but are attractive due to their large leaves with strong venation. At this age at least, dark brown dry leaves are retained on the twigs in winter.