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An evergreen shrub of variable habit, usually seen as a prostrate or low, spreading shrub in the wild but, in some forms, reaching a height of 8 ft or so in cultivation; shoots villose. Leaves varying from ovate, oval and oblanceolate to linear-obovate, 1⁄6 to 1⁄4 in. long, 1⁄12 to 1⁄4 in. wide, glabrous and shining, black-green above, grey and woolly beneath. Flowers solitary, 3⁄8 to 1⁄2 in. wide; petals spreading, roundish, white, opening in May; anthers, dark red-purple. Fruit bright shining scarlet, globose to obovoid, 3⁄8 in. wide. Bot. Mag., t. 9554.
Native of S.E. Tibet; discovered and introduced by Kingdon Ward in 1925 from Gyala on the Tsangpo River. The plant from which he took the seed grew pressed against a rock, but its offspring at Nymans in Sussex eventually reached a height of about 8 ft before dying of honey-fungus, and seedlings from them have reached a height of 6 ft in some gardens. On the other hand the plants at Exbury mentioned in previous editions have retained a low, spreading habit and at Wisley, on the rock-work opposite the greenhouses, there is a ground-hugging specimen which agrees well in habit with the wild parent plant. However, too much can be (indeed, has been) made of these differences, which may depend partly on situation. As usually seen in cultivation C. conspicuus is neither erect nor prostrate, but a low spreading shrub which builds up to a height of some 4 ft. A vigorous form was introduced more recently by Ludlow, Sherriff and Elliot (LSE 13310), which makes a mounded bush to about 8 ft high.
C. conspicuus ranks as one of the most valuable of the shrubby species as regards both flower and fruit. The berries are not attractive to birds and usually persist on the bush throughout the winter; the same is true in Tibet, where Kingdon Ward saw bushes still covered with fruit in mid-April.
Marquand, in the absence of wild material, drew up the technical description of C. conspicuus from a cultivated plant. This was a prostrate form and had been raised in the U.S.A. from seed received from Exbury. It was this plant that Russell subsequently named var. decorus, which is therefore a superfluous name and a synonym of typical C. conspicuus. The fact that it has gained currency in gardens is due to the quite erroneous belief that it is the taller form that is the typical one. In fact, Marquand made it clear that he regarded both forms as part of the normal variation of the species. If a distinction were to be made between them, then it is the taller form which would require the distinguishing name. Indeed, Dr Klotz has given it specific rank as C. permutatus.
† cv. ‘Highlight’. – This cultivar derives from the introduction by Ludlow, Sherriff and Elliott mentioned on page 738.