A coarse-growing, vigorous shrub, or a tree up to 50 ft high, forming a roundish, spreading head of branches; young wood thickly downy, soft and pithy. Leaves very variable in size and form, ovate or variously lobed, often shaped like fig leaves; rounded, or more or less tapered at the base, pointed, toothed, three-nerved at the base; upper surface dull green and rough, lower surface densely woolly till they fall; stalk 1 to 4 in., long. Flowers of the male plant in cylindrical often curly, woolly catkins, 11⁄2 to 3 in. long, 1⁄4 in. wide; female flowers in ball-like heads 1⁄2 in. in diameter. Fruit red. Bot. Mag., t. 2358.
Native of China and Japan; introduced early in the eighteenth century. It is now widely cultivated in Eastern countries; in Japan chiefly for the manufacture of paper from the bark, and in the Polynesian islands for the fibre, which is made into a cloth. Capt. Cook noticed in Otaheite that the finest and whitest cloth worn by the principal inhabitants was made from this material. In some of the Dalmatian towns, especially at Spalato (Split), I have seen it as a street tree of neat, rounded shape. The lobed leaves mostly occur on young vigorous trees, the unlobed ones on flowering specimens.
cv. ‘Cucullata’. – A male tree with curious leaves whose margins are curled upwards, so as to give the leaf the shape of a boat.
cv. ‘Laciniata’. – In this remarkable variety, which is quite dwarf, the leaf is reduced to the stalk and the three main veins, the ends of which have each a small, narrow, variously shaped blade. The leaf has thus a trifoliolate aspect. When in foliage the whole shrub is a tangle of these slender leaf-stalks. I have not seen this variety in flower. Raised at Lyons around 1830-5 and also known as B. p. dissecta. ‘billiardii’ is similar but more upright and vigorous; raised by a M. Billiard of Fontenay-aux-Roses. Rev. Hort., 1866, p. 420, and 1878, p. 374.
Both the varieties here mentioned are merely curious freaks, but the type itself makes a handsome shrub; the male plant when freely furnished with its yellowish, drooping catkins is striking.