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A slender deciduous tree 20 to 40 ft high, with a trunk 1 ft in diameter; young shoots very slender, smooth the first year, slightly warted the second; leaf-buds quite glabrous. Leaves narrowly oval to lanceolate, tapered at both ends, blunt or pointed at the apex, 11⁄2 to 4 in. long, 5⁄8 to 11⁄2 in. wide, dull green and glabrous above, slightly glaucous and covered with minute down beneath; stalk slender, 1⁄4 to 5⁄8 in. long. Flowers 3 to 4 in. across. Petals six, pure white; the three outer ones 2 in. long, 1⁄2 in. wide, oblong, pointed; the three inner ones rather shorter and wider, slightly obovate. Sepals short, lanceolate, very soon falling; flower-stalks quite glabrous; flower-buds hairy. Fruits rosy-pink, 2 to 3 in. long; seeds scarlet. Bot. Mag., t. 8483.
Native of Japan (main island and Kyushu); introduced to Kew from the Yokohama nurseries in 1906 (for the Mt Hakkoda form, introduced earlier, see below).
A very distinct species which makes an elegant tree, perfectly hardy. It blossoms in April on the naked shoots and the display is rarely ruined by frost. The flower is similar to that of M. kobus, but otherwise the species is very distinct in its narrow leaves, smooth leaf-buds and flower-stalks. It first flowered at Kew in 1911. The bark when bruised emits a pleasant odour, like that of Aloysia triphylla (lemon-scented verbena).
M. salicifolia is variable in habit. The tree in the Azalea Garden at Kew, planted in 1906, was fastigiate at first but has now become open-crowned, with the main branches springing from the trunk at a narrow angle but arching downward at their extremities. It measures 40 × 23⁄4 ft (1967). Other trees imported to Britain from Japan at the same time had the branches spreading from the start. In a third form, named fasciata by Millais, the plant has no central leader but consists of a besom-like cluster of stems; this is much less attractive than the freely branching form.
There is also some variation in size and shape of leaf. Sargent, Director of the Arnold Arboretum, described the leaves of trees seen by him on Mt Hakkoda as up to 5 or 6 in. long and 2 in. wide (in the common and more typical form they are only 11⁄4 to 11⁄2 in. wide); he also noted that when bruised they exhaled ‘the delicate odour of aniseed’ (Forest Flora of Japan, p. 10). J. H. Veitch accompanied Sargent on his visit to Mt Hakkoda (autumn 1892) and both collected seeds there of M. salicifolia. Veitch’s share did not germinate but the next year he obtained seeds or seedlings from the Arnold Arboretum and was listing M. salicifolia in his 1902 catalogue. The Veitchian broad-leaved form, discussed by G. H. Johnstone (op. cit., pp. 98,100, 101), is almost certainly from the Mt Hakkoda seeds. One tree, growing in the Coombe Wood nursery, was described as follows in previous editions of the present work: it ‘differs from the typical form in its more spreading habit, its stouter branchlets, larger flowers, broader petals (11⁄2 ins.), broader leaves (up to 3 ins. wide), differently scented bark, and in flowering a fortnight or so later’. Dr Sprague of Kew recognised this as the var. concolor of Miquel.
specimens: Nymans, Sussex, 60 × 31⁄2 ft, 50 × 33⁄4 ft and 56 × 31⁄2 ft (1983); Winkworth Arboretum, Godalming, Surrey, 46 × 3 ft (1978); Talbot Manor, Norfolk, pl. 1963, 34 × 21⁄2 ft (1978); Bodnant, Gwyn., 52 × 21⁄2 ft (1981).
cv. ‘Kewensis’. – See M. (salicifolia × kobus) ‘Kewensis’, page 662. Dr Stephen Spongberg has pointed out that M. salicifolia is fertile to its own pollen, and varies slightly when raised from seed. He considers that ‘Kewensis’ lies within the span of variation of M. salicifolia and is thus a cultivar of it, not a hybrid. He makes the same judgment of M. × proctoriana, mentioned on page 662, holding this, too, to be a cultivar of M. salicifolia.
† M. biondii Pampan. M. aulacosperma Rehd. & Wils. – This is the Chinese counterpart of M. salicifolia, the chief botanical differences being: leaves green beneath; pedicels silky-pubescent; seeds deeply grooved on one side (only shallowly so in its Japanese ally). It was described from a specimen collected by the Italian missionary Silvestri in Hupeh and the type of the synonymous M. aulacosperma is a Wilson specimen from the same province. However, the species is now known to have a fairly wide range in central China, as far north as Shensi and Honan.
Wilson did not introduce M. biondii, at least not successfully, but it is now in cultivation in the USA.