Tree to 25 m, usually single-stemmed. Bark light grey. Young shoots glabrous. Leaves 7–13(–15) cm × 3–7.5 cm, ovate to ovate-oblong, green above, glaucous and with a dense fine pubescence beneath, lateral veins 9–15, base nearly rounded or broadly cuneate, margins sparsely serrate, apex acute to acuminate. Petiole 1–2(–3) cm long. Peduncle 1–10 cm, downy close to the cupule. Cupule 2–2.5 cm, bracts all alike, linear, recurved, pubescent, shorter in the lower half. Nuts as long as or slightly shorter than cupule with narrowed wings near the apex. (Huang, Zhang, & Bartholomew 1999, Cullen et al. (eds) 2011, Krüssmann 1985a).
Distribution China Anhui, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Shaanxi, Sichuan, Yunnan, Zhejiang Vietnam
Habitat Broad-leaved evergreen and mixed mesophytic forests on mountain slopes; 300–2400 m.
USDA Hardiness Zone 9b-10a
RHS Hardiness Rating H3
Conservation status Vulnerable (VU)
Taxonomic note The name Fagus sinensis Oliver (published 1890) has recently been shown to have priority over the better known F. longipetiolata Seemen (1897) (Govaerts et al. 2020).
As is the case with F. lucida this is a species that remains poorly known in gardens despite having been introduced well over 100 years ago now. It was brought to the attention of western botanists by Augustine Henry, and subsequently introduced to western cultivation in 1911.
Hukusima et al. (2013) note that F. sinensis has the largest range of any of the accepted Chinese Beeches, while Bean (1981a) suggests that its “length of leaf-stalk combined with the closely downy undersurface of the leaves, their ovate shape, and the long slender stalk of the husk make the species very distinct”. It seems unlikely then that various collectors in China through the 20th century would have failed to spot it or failed to recognise it. The few specimens known from Britain are all restricted to mild gardens, so issues around hardniness may have prevented this species ever getting a firm foot-hold in horticulture, and early failures probably discouraged further collecting.
In 2017 the UK and Irish champion was at the RHS Rosemoor garden in Devon, standing 5 m tall and with a dbh of 9 cm. Two other (as yet unconfirmed) trees grow at Tregrehan and in 2014 were 3 m and 4 m tall (Tree Register 2019). In North America there is a thriving young tree in the Asian Garden of the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden, accession 1995–0331, which was wild collected by the late Peter Wharton under PW 25. The species has recently been collected again in Hubei by NACPEC, this material is in propagation at the Arnold Arboretum under collection number NACPEC 18–012 (Arnold Arboretum 2019).