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A deciduous shrub or small tree, of light and elegant aspect; young shoots hairy. Leaves oval, ovate, or somewhat obovate; 11⁄2 to 31⁄2 in. long, 3⁄4 to 13⁄4 in. wide; tapering at both ends, finely toothed, slightly hairy above, more so on the veins beneath; stalk 1⁄8 to 1⁄3 in. long, hairy. Flowers fragrant, white, 1⁄3 in. across, produced during late May and early June in terminal hairy panicles, and in the leaf-axils on small lateral twigs; the whole inflorescence is 11⁄2 to 21⁄2 in. long. The stalk of the axillary inflorescence appears to spring from the stem some distance above the leaf-axil itself, which seems to be due to its union to the branchlet. Petals five, united only at the base; stamens about thirty in five clusters, one cluster attached to the base of each petal. Fruits roundish oval, mostly one-seeded, becoming bright blue in autumn. Bot. Mag., n.s., t. 149.
S. paniculata, taken in a broad sense, is a variable species in several of its characters, including the colour of the fruits, and is of wide distribution from the Himalaya to Japan and Formosa. The plant described above, which is the form now cultivated, belongs to a blue-fruited race occurring in Japan, Korea and parts of China. It was introduced to the Parsons Nursery at Flushing, New York, by Thomas Hogg in 1875, and to Britain in the 1890s (for the Himalayan race, introduced earlier, see below).
S. paniculata received an Award of Merit as a flowering shrub when exhibited by Dame Alice Godman of South Lodge, Sussex, in 1938. But, pretty though the flowers are, it is for its turquoise-blue fruits that this species is grown. For a full crop of these it is necessary to grow several plants in a group, and these must be seedlings or belong to at least two different clones, since the species is usually or always self-incompatible and produces fruits only if pollinated by a different individual (all members of a clone count, of course, as a single individual). For this reason the fruits had rarely been seen in their full beauty until loaded branches were exhibited in 1947 at the Autumn Show of the R.H.S., from the Savill Garden, Windsor Great Park. It then received an Award of Merit for its fruits and a First Class Certificate in 1954, again from Windsor, whence too came the material portrayed in the Botanical Magazine. Mr T. H. Findlay tells us that the original plants in the Savill Garden came from Harry White of the Sunningdale Nurseries, and from the fruits produced by these, seedlings were raised and added to the plantings.
S. paniculata is hardy, and indeed in the Arnold Arboretum it has withstood the cold winters of New England since 1880. But it is not a plant for the cooler and rainier parts of the country, needing more than average summer heat to fruit well. The only qualification to its hardiness is that the fruits are sometimes spoilt by early autumn frost. It is best propagated by seeds, which may be slow to germinate unless sown at once or stratified.
The Himalayan race of S. paniculata named S. crataegifolia by Don in 1825, occurs from the Indus eastward into China and perhaps Japan. It was introduced in 1824 but is not of any horticultural importance, the fruits being black. In the genus Symplocos the name S. crataegifolia has priority over S. paniculata and was at one time used for the whole species, but under modern rules it must take the name S. paniculata, having been described by Thunberg (in Prunus) in 1784: