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A deciduous shrub or small tree to about 15 ft high in the wild; young shoots glabrous, turning very dark; scales of bud often hairy. Leaves pinnate, 2 to 4 in. long on the flowering twigs, up to 6 in. long on the barren ones, with mostly eight to twelve pairs of leaflets; rachis slightly hairy at first, grooved and narrowly winged in the apical part. Leaflets oblong to narrowly oblong-ovate, parallel-sided, up to 11⁄4 in. long, 3⁄16 to 5⁄16 in. wide, obtuse to subacute and often finely mucronate at the apex, glabrous on both sides except for some hairs on the midrib beneath, sharply and slenderly toothed. Flowers about 3⁄8 in. wide, borne in lax sparsely hairy clusters 2 to 3 in. long and wide. Calyx-lobes triangular, glabrous outside, downy within. Fruits globose, porcelain white, about 1⁄4 in. wide, the stalks becoming reddish.
Native of western China, extending to western Hupeh, where it was discovered by Henry. Wilson introduced it, probably from near the Hupeh-Shensi border, when collecting for Messrs Veitch (W.1098). Purdom sent seeds from Shensi in 1910, and plants cultivated on the continent probably derive from Giraldi’s collections in the same province. A plant of S. koehneana was bought by Kew at the winding-up sale of Messrs Veitch’s Coombe Wood nursery, but the true species has never been widely cultivated in this country. It is allied to S. ursina, but the leaflets are smaller and more glabrous, the hairs when present are white, and the fruits are purer white.
Plants seen under the name S. koehneana in some British collections are not that species and probably to be called S. setschwanensis Koehne. This is a very glabrous species, with leaves 2 to 4 in. long, the leaflets in up to fifteen pairs, not more than 1⁄2 in. long except on strong shoots. Inflorescences very sparsely branched and few-flowered. Fruits white, about 5⁄16 in. wide. The provenance of these plants is unknown. They are quite pretty in autumn when the leaves turn russet, but are of ugly, sparsely branched habit, the majority of the leaves being borne on clustered spurs at the ends of the branches. S. prattii is in similar style and more ornamental.
Some plants distributed to collections as S. koehneana, raised from Forrest seed, are S. vilmorinii.
S. setschwanenis (Schneid.) Koehne S. vilmorinii var. setschwanensis Schneid. – In the third paragraph on page 439 mention was made of this species, distributed as S. koehneana. Young plants under the name S. setschwanensis, which are now to be seen in many gardens, are from seeds collected by Roy Lancaster on Mount Omei (Emei Shan) in 1980. No specimens from this mountain are mentioned by Koehne in Plantae Wilsonianae, but there are several in the Kew Herbarium, from gatherings by Faber, Wilson and the Chinese botanist Fang.
Plants from this new introduction are very ornamental, with ferny foliage which is copper- or bronze-coloured at first, turning crimson in autumn. Fruits red, white when ripe, on slender red stalks. The cultivated plants are of shrubby habit, slenderly branched from the base, thus agreeing with the wild ones, which were manystemmed and 10-12 ft high and wide.
S. setschwanensis was originally described by Schneider in 1906 as a variety of S. vilmorinii, from a specimen (provenance unknown) collected by Augustine Henry. It is in fact only distantly related to that species, but little was known of the Sorbus species of China at that time.
Very closely related to S. setschwanensis is S. unguiculata Koehne, described from specimens collected by Wilson in the Kangding area. The differences between them are slight and probably not correlated.