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Shrub or small tree to 5 m, usually multistemmed. Branchlets pale green-brown, glabrous. Leaves deciduous, alternate, 3–6.5 × 2–4 cm, oblong to elliptic or ovate, immature leaves with a dense covering of silky hairs, mature leaves upper surface green and glabrous, lower surface with some greenish white hairs, midrib elevated below, five to seven lateral veins on each side of the midrib, margins entire, undulate, apex acute; petiole 0.2–0.4 cm long, pubescent; dead, dry leaves do not fall until the spring. Inflorescence clusters axillary, with 5–10 flowers. Flowers pale yellowish green, tepals six; staminate flowers with nine fertile stamens; pistillate flowers with nine staminodes. Fruit globose, black, 0.6–0.7 cm diameter. Flowering March to April, fruiting October (Taiwan). Ohwi 1965, Liao 1996b. Distribution CHINA: Anhui, Fujian, Gansu, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Shaanxi, Shanxi, Sichuan, Zhejiang; JAPAN: Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku; TAIWAN. Habitat Mixed deciduous forest. USDA Hardiness Zone 5. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration NT451, NT454, NT454. Cross-reference K223. Taxonomic note Both L. angustifolia Cheng and L. salicifolia (Nakai) C.M. Pak (an invalidly published name, according to IPNI) are clearly very close to, if not conspecific with this species, and here we treat them as variants of it. Lee (2002) has already made the combination L. glauca var. salicifolia (Nakai) T. Lee, although again the validity of this publication is not certain. These taxa differ only in insignificant details, and overall they fall within the range of variation of L. glauca.
A full botanical assessment in the context of the whole genus is required to settle the question of the relationships of the three taxa covered here (Lindera angustifolia, L. glauca, L. salicifolia), but horticulturally they have very similar merits and effects. These are great, and the plant should be grown under any name. It is fair to say that these are not really trees, but large multistemmed shrubs; with firm pruning or dense low competitors a single stem might be achievable, but it is not the natural state. The foliage in summer is unremarkable, pale mid-green above and rather dully glaucous below, but in autumn it turns to magnificent shades of pumpkin-orange and red – Andrew Bunting of the Scott Arboretum regards it as ‘the best fall color of any tree or shrub’ (pers. comm. 2006) – before fading to tan, and then persisting on the plants through the winter. This is itself a valuable feature of the species, much admired by those who value winter effects – and not only visual ones. Dan Hinkley (Heronswood Nursery catalogue 1999) writes of enjoying the ‘clatter’ of the dry leaves as they rustle in the wind. The fruits are black and (at least in stocks labelled L. salicifolia) freely produced. This taxon is monoecious, or at least its representatives in cultivation are, and single clones can therefore be relied upon to fruit (A. Aiello, pers. comm. 2006).
All these taxa are widely grown in North America and seem to perform well throughout the United States. In Chicago Botanical Garden ‘L. salicifolia’ is perfectly hardy, though it does not flower freely (B. Tankersley, pers. comm. 2007). They all seem to make multistemmed shrubs up to about 5 m tall (8 m has been recorded for ‘L. angustifolia’: Cheng, in P’ei 1933). They are much rarer in Europe, only a scattering of specimens having been traced, in Belgian collections (J. De Langhe, pers. comm. 2007), together with a few in England. This is clearly an overlooked species here.