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A deciduous, dioecious tree 40 to 50 ft high. The branches usually grow out from the trunk horizontally, and the younger ones have a large core of pith. Leaves dark green and quite glabrous above, glaucous beneath, and hairy at the base where the main veins join the stalk, heart-shaped, contracted at the apex to a short point, rather distantly toothed, and ordinarily about 6 in. long by 5 in. wide, but occasionally half as large again; leaf-stalk usually three-fourths as long as the leaf, furnished with a pair of oblong glands near the apex. Flowers fragrant, yellow-green, without petals, in terminal panicles; unisexual, and produced on different trees. Male panicles 5 or 6 in. long, each flower 1⁄3 in. across, the usually five sepals covered, like the flower-stalks, with a short brownish down; stamens numerous. Female flowers smaller, and in a longer, looser panicle than the males, with similar but smaller sepals, and a prominent globular ovary. Fruits hanging like a bunch of small grapes, each berry about the size of a pea, globular, containing numerous seeds lying in pulp; at first green, the berries become dark brown, finally a deep red. Bot. Mag., n.s., t. 649.
This interesting tree was first made known to Europeans by R. Oldham, the Kew collector, who found it in Japan in 1862-3; it is a native also of China. Soon after, it was introduced to Europe by way of St Petersburg, and was already in the famous arboretum at Segrez in 1869. It was later reintroduced from China by Wilson and by Forrest and probably most of the trees now cultivated derive from these sendings.
In general appearance it suggests a catalpa, but the leaves are thicker and not so large. It grows very well in a loamy soil, and is hardy at Kew, where it flowers in June and July and produces fruit annually. As a flowering tree it has no claims to notice, but the fruits make it interesting, and, if the autumn be fine enough to enable them to reach their final stage of colouring, distinct and handsome. A fine crop of berries was produced at Wakehurst Place, Sussex, in the warm dry summer of 1934, and specimens grown in the garden there were given an Award of Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society on November 6, 1934. Fruits are, however, only produced by this species if trees of both sexes ate grown. At Kew, the tree at the south end of the Rhododendron Dell occasionally produces good crops, although the male is several hundred yards distant.
Seeds are usually available in commerce and afford a better means of increase than cuttings, though vegetative propagation is, of course, essential if plants of known sex are to be produced.