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A deciduous tree ranging from 40 to 80 ft high in the wild, the trunks of the largest 6 ft in girth; young shoots slightly rusty-downy at first. Leaves pinnate, 6 to 12 in. long, composed of five to thirteen (usually nine) leaflets, which are oval to ovate, pointed, tapered at the base, the margins remotely and finely toothed or entire; the lower pairs are the smallest and 1 to 2 in. long, the remainder increasing in size towards the end, where they are 2 to 5 in. long and 1 to 21⁄2 in. wide; upper surface rather rough, dullish green, lower one with tufts of down in the vein-axils; stalks 1⁄12 in. long. Flowers creamy white, borne in axillary, spreading or pendulous panicles up to 8 in. long and 4 in. wide, with rusty-downy stalks. Individually the flower (as in all meliosmas) is small and about 1⁄4 in. wide. Fruits globose, black, 1⁄4 in. wide.
Native of Hupeh and Szechwan, China; discovered by Wilson and introduced in 1907. He praises it highly and describes it as one of the most striking and handsome of Chinese trees. It flowers in May, when the bloom is so abundant as to cover the tree. It is often planted near temples and wayside shrines. It differs from all other pinnate-leaved meliosmas (which have terminal panicles) in the inflorescence being axillary. It is very hardy. A tree, newly transplanted from Aldenham, bloomed at Borde Hill, Sussex, May 1933, and again in 1971. There is no record of its having flowered in the intervening years.
Van Beusekom comes to the truly remarkable conclusion that this species of central and western China differs in no essential character from M. alba of southern Mexico. However, in view of the vast distance separating these two areas, it seems not unreasonable to maintain the present name for the cultivated plants, despite the priority of M. alba.