Shrubs 1–2 m tall. Branchlets densely brown stellate pubescent or glabrescent. Leaves papery; 1–3.5 × 0.7–2.5 cm, obovate, rhomboid or rarely elliptic-ovate, lower surface densely greyish stellate tomentose, upper surface rugose and glabrous except veins, four to six secondary veins on either side of the mid-rib, margin two to four-lobed or apically coarsely serrate, apex acute; petiole 1–2 mm. Inflorescence peudo-terminal raceme, three to five flowered, 2–3 cm long; pedicel c. 0.3 cm long. Flowers 1–1.3 cm long; calyx five-toothed; corolla lobes 5 (or 6), 0.6–0.7 cm long, oblong, pale yellow stellate pubescent. Stamen shorter than corolla, filaments basally stellate pubescent. Fruit subglobose, c. 0.5 cm long, densely tomentose, apex shortly pointed (Hwang & Grimes 1996).
Distribution China Sichuan
Habitat Open areas in forests or scrub, 1300–1700 m asl.
USDA Hardiness Zone 9b-10a
RHS Hardiness Rating H3
Conservation status Not evaluated (NE)
Styrax wilsonii is endemic to Baoxing Shan, Sichuan, from where it was introduced by E.H. Wilson when collecting for the Arnold Arboretum in 1908. According to Lobdell (2013), this species is more common in North America than in Europe, but it is probably more accurate to say this this species is uncommon in North America and rare in Europe. In North America, Poly Hill Arboretum and JC Raulston Arboretum both list mature specimens in their catalogues (JC Raulston Arboretum 2018; The Poly Hill Arboretum 2018) and in the UK Caerhays Estate have several young plants. JC Raulston Arboretum’s tree was planted out in 2001 and was measured in 2012 at 4.5 m (JC Raulston Arboretum 2018), larger and more statuesque than in its native habitat. It is cultivated in New Zealand, for example at Gwavas Station, Hawkes Bay (T. Christian pers. comm. 2018).
S. wilsonii is notable for its very small leaves on a finely twiggy bush, and for the abundance of its small fragrant flowers, but the hardiness of this species is questionable due to its limited native range. It clearly does survive in sheltered spots within gardens and would be worth the effort to try this species as young plants do flower very profusely.