Tree 2–8 m, 0.12 m dbh. Branchlets densely covered in brown stellate tomentum. Leaves leathery, 4–14 × 2.5–7 cm, oblong to obovate or elliptic, both surfaces sparsely covered with stellate tomentum, five to seven secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins serrulate, apex acute to short-acuminate; petiole 0.1–0.3 cm long. Inflorescences terminal, racemose, 4–10 cm long, with three to eight flowers; pedicels 1–1.5 cm long. Flowers ~1.5 cm long; calyx five-toothed, 0.5–0.8 cm long, densely covered in yellowish grey tomentum, corolla tube 0.3–0.4 mm, lobes 1.2–2 cm, lanceolate to oblong. Fruit subglobose to ovoid, 0.8–1.5 cm diameter, densely stellate-tomentose. Flowering April to June, fruiting September to November (China). (Hwang & Grimes 1996).
Distribution China Anhui, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Sichuan, Zhejiang
Habitat Sparse, montane forest, between 100 and 1700 m asl.
USDA Hardiness Zone 7-8
Conservation status Not evaluated (NE)
Taxonomic note In addition to typical Styrax confusus, two varieties are recognised: var. microphyllus Perkins has a short calyx, 0.3–0.4 cm long, and flowers from September to October; var. superbus (Chun) S.M. Hwang has flowers ~2.2 cm long.
Styrax confusus is a very attractive tree-forming species, now well established though still scarce in gardens, with many examples being as yet rather small. It is well worth growing for its relatively large leaves and showy racemes, bearing several white flowers in early summer. When seen at the JC Raulston Arboretum in May 2006 it was just finishing flowering but had evidently been very beautiful. Two specimens were noted, one labelled S. confusus and the other S. philadelphoides, but they seemed to be identical. The latter plant was 5.5 m tall, developing faintly striated bark on its trunk. A young tree labelled S. confusus at Gwavas Station, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, (number 13/996, collection SHB 149) was c. 5 m in late November 2017, when it was just coming into flower (T. Christian pers. comm. 2018). In Ray Wood, Castle Howard, North Yorkshire, a specimen from the Sino-American Seed Expedition to the Huangshan, Anhui, in 1988, has reached about 4 m in height and flowers well in late June and early June, after S. japonicus has finished.