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A genus of two species of deciduous shrubs or small trees native to central China, allied to Abelia and Lonicera. It was described by Rehder in 1916 from flowering and fruiting specimens collected by Wilson in 1907 on cliffs near Hsing-shan Hsien in western Hupeh, at about 3,000 ft. The type-species, which Rehder named H. miconioides, was very rare. Wilson did not introduce it and for almost forty years nothing more was heard of this new genus.
Then, in 1955, the late H. K. Airy Shaw of Kew described a second species – H. jasminoides – based not on a new discovery but on a hitherto unidentified specimen in the Kew Herbarium, which had been collected many years earlier in Chekiang province. Subsequently this species was rediscovered in the type-locality by Chinese botanists and a plant transferred to the Hangzhou Botanic Garden in the same province. Seed was collected from this specimen in 1980 by the Sino-American expedition to central China and plants were raised at the Arnold Arboretum and the United States National Arboretum. These have been propagated by cuttings and have also produced good seed, with the result that by 1986 H. jasminoides was already well established in cultivation and about to be distributed to private gardens.
Rehder remarked that Heptacodium differs from both Abelia and Lonicera in having the flowers clustered seven together in involucrate heads, these arranged in the form of a panicle. The corollas are two-lipped, as in most species of Lonicera but, as in Abelia, the seed-vessels are crowned by the persistent calyx-lobes, which enlarge as the fruits ripen. In the United States H. jasminoides bears its creamy white, fragrant flowers in late summer, but its most distinctive feature is the fruits, which change colour from green to rose and then to purple, finally becoming tan-coloured when fully ripe. The leaves in both species are entire, strongly three-veined from the base, and in H. jasminoides are 3 to 4 in. long and 2 to 2[1/4] in. wide, wavy at the edge. In the wild it makes a large shrub or small tree to about 25 ft high. See further in the article by Gary Kollwe in Arnoldia, Vol.46, Fall 1986, to which we are indebted for most of the above information.
Mr Gardiner tells us that the Hillier Arboretum obtained seed of H. jasminoides direct from the Hangzhou Botanic garden in 1980. Three plants were put out in 1986/7 when about 5 ft high. There is every likelihood that this species will be hardy in Britain, but it remains to be seen whether our average summer is warm enough for it to flower and fruit well.