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A compact evergreen shrub usually not more than 6 ft high in cultivation, with yellowish green, perfectly glabrous young shoots. Leaves oblanceolate or oval, tapered towards both ends, bluntish at the apex, shallowly toothed at the upper half only, 2 to 5 in. long, 1⁄2 to 1 in. wide, stout and leathery, deep glossy green above, pale green beneath, quite glabrous. Flowers in a cluster of racemes or in panicles at the end of the shoot, each one of which is 3 to 6 in. long, the stalks minutely downy, the flowers nodding. Corolla pure white, urn-shaped, 3⁄8 in. long, 1⁄4 in. wide, with five small, slightly reflexed lobes at the much contracted mouth. Sepals normally five, but sometimes reduced apparently to three or four through one or two pairs being united, green, glabrous outside, tipped with down inside, ovate, 1⁄8 in. long. Stamens white, 1⁄10 in. long, thickened towards the base, slightly downy except at the top; anthers brown, with two awns at the back; style 1⁄5 in. long. Flowers in April. Bot. Mag., t. 9016.
Native of Formosa, where it inhabits open places in the mountains from 6,000 to 11,000 ft; introduced by Wilson in 1918. Grown under glass, it flowered at Kew when only two years old, raised from seed. It received an Award of Merit when shown by Lord Headfort in 1922, and a First Class Certificate in the following year. In the article accompanying the plate in the Botanical Magazine, Dr Stapf remarked that P. taiwanensis is variable in the posture of its inflorescences, from upright to drooping, adding that the variation is independent of external conditions, ‘both extremes occurring indeed in the same sowing’. In the form usually seen in cultivation, the inflorescence branches are more or less horizontal, not drooping as in P. japonica. To that species P. taiwanensis is certainly very closely allied. The difference given by Dr Stapf is that in P. japonica the leaves are smaller and thinner, more finely crenulate from the base, the raceme-spindles and pedicels more slender and the flowers smaller. But whether these differences would hold good if a large amount of material were available for study is not certain. See also P. formosa.
P. taiwanensis is hardy, perhaps rather more so than P. japonica, and at least under woodland conditions its flowers and young growths are rarely cut by spring frost and self-sown seedlings often appear around the parent plant. It received an Award of Garden Merit in 1964.
In his revision of Pieris Judd includes this species in P. japonica in synonymy – a decision it would be difficult to gainsay. The horticultural distinction of racemes erect in P. taiwanensis and drooping in P. japonica certainly does not hold good, since plants raised at Headfort from Wilson’s original introduction (W. 10906) had inflorescences ranging from upright to pendulous, and Judd points out that erect inflorescences may occur in Japanese plants (though they are mostly pendulous in those cultivated here). It is not possible, he writes, to determine the country of origin of an herbarium specimen whose provenance is unknown.