Tree to 10 m; bark dark grey. Twigs dark brown with dense, rust-coloured hairs. Leaves oblong-lanceolate to elliptic-lanceolate, 5–6.5 × 2–2.5 cm; with appressed silky red or whitish hairs on both sides; lateral veins in 14–17 pairs; margin irregularly or rarely doubly toothed, the teeth incurved and mucronate; petiole 3–8 mm, with dense rust-coloured hairs. Fruiting catkins 25–30 mm long, peduncle 1–2 cm and with dense whitish or rusty hairs; fruit-bracts D-shaped, c. 15 mm long, with dense soft hairs along the veins on both sides, the curved side remotely dentate, the straight side entire but with a small auricle at the base to clasp the nutlet; nutlet densely hairy. (Li & Skvortsov 1999).
Distribution China Sichuan (Emei Shan), E Xizang (Bomi Xian), SE Yunnan (Malipo Xian)
Habitat Mountain forests, sometimes on limestone, 1400–2900 m asl.
USDA Hardiness Zone 9
RHS Hardiness Rating H3
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
This is one of a group of Chinese hornbeams which seem too closely related to be reliably separated by genetic analysis (Dong et al. 2022) and for which Carpinus polyneura Franch. (1899) is earliest published name. C. mollicoma, however, tends to be a much hairier plant; it was described by Xiansu Hu in 1948, and was commercially available in the UK in the late 1990s (Royal Horticultural Society 1999), but the only example in cultivation with an online presence by 2011 was a poor, straggly bush at the John Fairie Garden in southern Texas (Weathington 2011). Texas’s hot and sometimes dry summers are unlikely to suit this mountain species very well, but the implication is that this is a taxon of very limited hardiness, despite its lofty distribution in areas of SW China familiar to many western gardeners. The long-tipped leaves with their many, pleated veins share the elegance of many oriental Carpinus.