Spreading shrub to 5 m, with erect to arching branches. Twigs brown to purplish in sun, glabrous; pith lamellate. Leaves narrowly ovate-lanceolate, 4–12 × 2–6 cm, long-pointed, base rounded, glabrous or pubescent on both sides; margin entire or with a few irregular minute serrations; petiole 4–12 mm, glabrous or slightly pubescent. Flowers carried singly or in pairs or 3s at each leaf-scar in early spring, slightly scented. Calyx lobes ciliate. Corolla soft yellow, 25–38 mm wide, with oblanceolate pointed lobes. Fruits smooth, ovoid, shortly beaked. (Bean 1981; Chang, Qiu & Green 1996).
Distribution China SE Gansu, W Henan, Shaanxi, NE Sichuan
Habitat Mountain forests, rock crevices and flood-plains, 800–3200 m asl.
USDA Hardiness Zone 6
RHS Hardiness Rating H5
Conservation status Not evaluated (NE)
Forsythia giraldiana is one of the more elegant Forsythias, with rather narrow, long-pointed leaves and delicately primrose-yellow flowers which, unusually within this genus, are slightly scented (Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 2021); it is also the first species to flower in spring. It is perhaps the only Forsythia to grow wild in very wet, flood-plain sites, and could be useful in gardens where the soil is too heavy for other yellow spring-flowering shrubs to survive (Stewart 2021).
A very close ally, F. likiangensis, was described in 1983 but has a discrete range further south and west in China. These taxa are believed to be closest to the ancestral root of the genus in the Miocene epoch (Ha et al. 2018).
Forsythia giraldiana was first collected in northern Shaanxi in 1897 by Guiseppe Giraldi, the Italian Franciscan friar after whom the species is named (Bean 1981). It was introduced to the west by a collection made by Reginald Farrer in SE Gansu in 1914 (Farrer 388), but this was first distributed as F. suspensa (Bean 1981); this collection is still cultivated at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. The species reached the Arnold Arboretum in America – where it is just hardy – in 1938, in the form of wild-collected material from the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley (Arnold Arboretum 2018).
Like most Forsythia species, F. giraldiana is now very scarce in collections. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh has plants wild-collected in 1930 and 1942 (Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 2018), and it will be represented in the UK’s new National Collection of Forsythias at Sculpture by the Lakes in Dorset by material from Farrer 388 (M. Gudgeon pers. comm.).
A now-popular Forsythia, F. ‘Golden Times’, with rather long leaves that flush yellow and mature green with a creamy-white marginal variegation, is understood by various American authorities to be a cultivar of F. giraldiana, but the harder yellow of its flowers makes this seem unlikely. Bolesław Suszka successfully crossed F. giraldiana with the other Forsythias known to him in Poland in the 1950s – except for F. viridissima (Suszka 1959) – but whether F. giraldiana was a contributor to any of today’s hybrid Forsythias of Polish origin seems not to have been recorded.