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Tree to 30(–45) m, trunk straight or crooked, 1.5 m dbh. Bark scaly, flaking irregularly, greyish brown, developing large longitudinal fissures, occasionally with transverse fissures. Crown irregular, broad and domed. Branchlets slender, smooth, yellowish brown or glaucous; vegetative buds slightly resinous. Leaves in fascicles of two (to three), slender, pliant, slightly twisted, pale green, semicircular in cross-section, 12–20 × 0.05–0.1 cm, apex acute. Fascicle sheaths 2 cm long, persistent. Cataphylls to 0.5 cm long. Male strobili reddish yellow, ovoid. Female cones subterminal, with a short peduncle, to 0.4 cm long. Cones 4–7 × 2.5–4 cm, green to chestnut brown, ovoid to conical or cylindrical, mature in about 18 months, falling early when ripe. Scales flat, oblong-obovoid or rhombic; apophysis flat or slightly swollen; umbo dorsal, slightly sunken, spiny (var. shaxianensis) or obtuse. Seeds blackish brown; wings 1.1–1.5 cm long. Fu et al. 1999c, Farjon 2005a. Distribution CHINA: Anhui, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, western Henan, Hubei, Hunan, southern Jiangsu, Jiangxi, southeast Shaanxi, Sichuan, eastern Yunnan, Zhejiang; TAIWAN. Widely planted in Vietnam. Habitat Grows in a great variety of habitats between 200 and 2000 m asl. Cannot tolerate shade, and forms pure stands or mixes with other light-demanding trees. An important forestry species in China. USDA Hardiness Zone 8. Conservation status Lower Risk. Illustration Fu et al. 1999c, Farjon 2005a; NT580, NT608. Cross-reference K222. Taxonomic note Farjon (2001) also recognises P. massoniana var. hainanensis W.C. Cheng & L.K. Fu, which is endangered and restricted to the hills of Hainan Island; it is not recorded in cultivation.
Despite its wide distribution, Pinus massoniana has received little attention from horticulture. This may be because, in Wilson’s words (Sargent 1916), ‘as ordinarily met with it is a tree of no great beauty’; Wilson went on to say, however, that in a perfect mature state it is very beautiful, with a reddish upper trunk and a flattened or rounded crown. Krüssmann (1985b) gives 1829 as the date of its first introduction, but it is mentioned only as a footnote in Elwes & Henry (1910). It seems probable that it was first successfully introduced by one of the early-twentieth century collectors in China – possibly Wilson, who gathered material of it on several occasions. A 14.5 m tree measured by Alan Mitchell at Nymans, West Sussex in 1957 (TROBI) was presumably from such a source. Several specimens of 10–13 m have been recorded in southeastern England over the years. The largest contemporary tree at Kew, however, is of hybrid origin, grown from seed sent from Les Barres in 1957 (M. Frankis, pers. comm. 2007). Young specimens from more recent gatherings are relatively frequent in British and western European arboreta. In North America it seems to be rare, but a vigorous young plant was noted at the San Francisco Botanical Garden in 2004.