A shrub to 6 m tall, rarely arborescent. Shoots with dense glandular hairs, or glabrous; older bark brown, exfoliating in long strips. Leaf ovate to lanceolate, 3–12.5 × 1.5–7 cm, base cuneate or obtuse, tip acute to long-acuminate; margin entire or with a few remote teeth near the tip; midrib often with white pubescence; petiole 6–14 mm long. Flowers April–July; flowers often paired at the branch tips. Peduncles to 2.5 cm, ovaries with 4 bracts tightly adnate to base, the 2 outer bracts growing to peltate wings to 2.5 cm wide, papery, with conspicuous veins; calyx 5-lobed to the base, with glandular hairs, the lobes linear, 5–7 mm, glandular-ciliate; corolla white to pink, the lower lip marked orange, narrowly cylindrical near the base, bell-shaped above. Stamens nearly as long as the corolla tube; style often slightly longer than the corolla-tube, glabrous to sparsely hairy. Fruit August–September, the achene enclosed within the 2 centrally-attached bracts, which are tawny pink then bronze. (Flora of China 2021; Landrein & Farjon 2020).
Habitat Mixed forests and scrub, 600–2200 m asl.
USDA Hardiness Zone 5
RHS Hardiness Rating H5
Taxonomic note Linnaea floribunda (Decne.) A. Braun & Vatke is a synonym for the plant here treated as Vesalea floribunda M. Martens & Galeotti. Christenhusz (2013) was the first authority to publish names within Linnaea for the plants treated here as Dipelta, but as L. floribunda was unavailable, a new name for D. floribunda – Linnaea dipelta Christenh. – was consequently required.
As a large and vigorous shrub which can reach 6 m, Dipelta floribunda remains more a feature of big gardens and collections than of suburbia. It is hardy enough to grow at the (Dresden Botanical Garden) and at the Arnold Arboretum in Massachusetts (Dirr 2009), and also flourishes in the hotter summers of North Carolina, where flowering begins in April (Dirr 2009). It is commercially available in Australia and it is cultivated in New Zealand, for example at the (Dunedin Botanic Garden). The species tolerates a chalky soil and thrived at the former Hilliers’ nurseries in Winchester, UK (Bean 1976), and in various Hungarian collections on limey soil (T. Christian pers. comm. 2021).
Out of flower, like other Dipelta species, this is not a showy plant, though the exfoliating bark provides some winter interest and autumn colour can be yellow and orange, though seldom brilliant (Missouri Botanical Garden 2021); through summer the fruit’s distinctive ‘shields’ turn pink and finally bronzy-brown.
Dipelta floribunda was first collected by Ernest Wilson in 1902, who sent living roots, probably from Hubei, to Veitch’s nurseries in the UK (Bean 1976; Landrein & Farjon 2020). In their monograph on Linaeeae Landrein & Farjon (2020) observe that, though the species has been reintroduced to the west on subsequent occasions, few genotypes seem to be present; one variant form has white rather than soft pink flowers. The Sino-American Botanical Expedition collected D. floribunda in Hubei under SABE 1611 and 1684; plants are growing in several North American collections. More recently material was introduced from Gansu, under NACPEC 11073 (Quarryhill Botanical Garden 2019).