A small evergreen tree or a large shrub. Leaves oblanceolate, c. 10 × 4 cm, with a rounded or subcordate base and a shortly pointed tip; leathery, glabrescent, rather matt, rugose, with a prominent midrib and sunken lateral veins in 5–6 pairs; with an irregular, glandular serration except towards the base of the leaf; flushing purplish and maturing to dark green, pale grey beneath; petiole short (to 12 mm). Fruit-head large and turbinate, 2.2–3.1 cm high × 2.1–2.7 cm wide, ripening purplish, rugose, on a stout peduncule 2–3.1 cm long, with c. 25 fruit, each with a short beak. (Ickert-Bond; Pigg & Wen 2007; Crûg Farm Plants 2021).
Distribution Vietnam High mountains in the north of the country
Habitat Evergreen montane forests
USDA Hardiness Zone 9
RHS Hardiness Rating H2
Conservation status Data deficient (DD)
Liquidambar poilanei was first described (as Altingia poilanei) from remote mountain forests in the north of Vietnam, by M.L. Tardieu-Blot in 1965 (Tardieu-Blot 1965), and named in memory of the French botanist Eugène Poilane, who worked in Vietnam and had died in the previous year. The species was refound, in this same habitat, by Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones in the autumn of 2006, who collected seed (BSWJ 11756); the seedlings are now commercially available from Crûg Farm Nursery (Crûg Farm Plants 2021) and, like other collections from this zone, are likely to succeed only in the milder parts of Britain, given side shelter and enough summer rainfall. The reddish purple flush to the lanceolate evergreen leaves, which are finely and sharply toothed and broadest above the middle, are likely to suggest some kind of Photinia. The distinctively large, knobbly, purplish fruit-heads, as photographed in the wild by the Wynn-Joneses, also seem an attractive feature.