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A small deciduous tree, sometimes 20 ft or more high, with a short trunk and a rounded gauntly branched head; branchlets yellowish, downy; winter-buds brown, velvety. Leaves pinnate, varying in size according to the vigour of the plant, ordinarily from 8 to 15 in. long, and composed of seven to thirteen leaflets, between each pair of which the common leaf-stalk is winged. Leaflets stalkless, oval, usually 21⁄2 to 4 (occasionally 6) in. long, and about half as wide, pointed, the margins conspicuously round- or sharply toothed, the undersurface covered with velvety down. Flowers in a large, terminal panicle 8 or 10 in. long and wide, yellowish white, produced in August. Fruits small, orange-coloured.
R. chinensis is widely spread in Asia, throughout the Himalaya (from Hazara in the west to Bhutan in the east), Assam, upper Burma, Siam, Indo-China, throughout China to Korea, Japan, and Formosa, and it has also been found in Sumatra. Miller grew the species from seeds received from Paris in 1737, but the plants were destroyed in the winter of 1740, and it was probably not established in cultivation in Britain until the 1870s. R. chinensis varies in the degree of winging of the leaf-rachis and the name var. roxburghii (DC.) Rehd. has been given to plants where the leaf-rachis is not or only slightly winged.
As a flowering plant R. chinensis is one of the handsomest of the sumachs, although it does not bloom so freely here as on the Continent. It may be cut down annually like R. glabra ‘Laciniata’. In some places it colours brilliantly in the autumn.