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An evergreen shrub 5 to 6 ft high, with erect, unbranching stems. Leaves 6 to 8 in. long, pinnate, consisting usually of seven leaflets, which are linear-lanceolate, taper gradually to both ends and are 3 to 4 in. long, and about 1⁄2 in. wide, margins except towards the base set with forward-pointing teeth; undersurface marked with prominent, netted veins. Flowers yellow, densely crowded on narrow, cylindrical racemes 2 to 3 in. long, erect. Blossoming in late autumn (October and November), the species rarely develops fruits in this country.
Robert Fortune found this shrub cultivated in a nursery at Shanghai, and introduced it in 1846. It has since been found wild in several parts of China. It is rather tender, and will not thrive in the open ground at Kew. It is distinct from all the other mahonias in the narrow, dull green leaflets, and in the slender racemes, less than 1⁄2 in. in diameter; but is one of the least effective.
† M. confusa Sprague M. zemanii Schneid. – This species was considered by both Schneider and Takeda to be near to M. fortunei, which it resembles in its narrow leaflets tapered at the base and short inflorescences, but the leaflets are more numerous and closely spaced, with the lowermost pair inserted near the base of the rachis, against well above it in M. fortunei. It was described from a specimen collected in Hupeh and introduced by Roy Lancaster in 1980 from Mount Omei, where Wilson also found it. In the six years since it reached gardens it has thrived so well that home-raised seedling plants have already been distributed commercially. It is of value more for its foliage than for its flowers, and two forms have been noted, one with sea-green and the other with apple-green leaves. Being perfectly hardy, it may prove to be of value as a parent of hybrids. It has reached a height of 3 ft in cultivation (1986).