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Tree to 15 m. Branchlets slender, sparsely pubescent. Leaf buds covered in ferruginous hairs. Leaves evergreen, simple, glossy mid-green, 4–12 × 2–7 cm, papery, obovate or oblanceolate, both surfaces glabrous, four to five secondary veins on each side of the midvein, veins particularly prominent on the lower surface, margins crenate, apex obtuse or acuminate; petiole 1–1.5 cm long, sparsely pubescent when young, later glabrous. Inflorescences either amongst or below the leaves; racemes 4–6 cm long, bearing 8–18 flowers. Flowers hermaphrodite, 5-merous and to 0.5 cm long; petals divided in upper half into 10–12 segments, stamens 15. Fruit an ellipsoid drupe, 1–1.2 × 0.7 cm; endocarp thin and bony with three sutures. Flowering April to May, fruiting May to August (China). Tang & Chamlong 2005. Distribution CHINA: Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hainan, Hunan, Jiangxi, Sichuan, Yunnan, Zhejiang; VIETNAM. Habitat Evergreen forests between 300 and 2000 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 8b. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration NT316. Taxonomic note This species is very closely related to E. decipiens.
Elaeocarpus sylvestris is potentially the hardiest species of the genus, and comparatively well known in cultivation. It is commercially available in both Europe and North America. The limits of its hardiness are not fully established: the catalogue of Firma C. Esveld in Boskoop, the Netherlands says that it is not winter-hardy there, but it is grown throughout the maritime Pacific Northwest (withstanding –12 to –14 ºC in Vancouver: Hogan 2008), North Carolina and the British Isles. A specimen seen at Glasnevin in 2006, accessioned in 2000, was 1.8 m tall and apparently doing very well. The species has neat, narrow leaves of shiny bright green. The flower racemes are comparatively short, and the initially white flowers turn creamy yellow as they fade.