A deciduous shrub of wide-spreading habit, forming a dense tangle of interlacing, more or less spiny branches, ultimately 10 ft high, and 20 ft in diameter; branchlets smooth and glabrous or slightly downy. Leaves 11⁄2 to 31⁄2 in. long, oval, tapering more gradually towards the base than towards the apex, evenly saw-toothed, dark glossy green above, paler beneath, quite glabrous on both surfaces; stipules large and conspicuous on the shoots of the year, as much as 11⁄2 in. diameter, obliquely kidney-shaped and toothed. Flowers 11⁄2 to 13⁄4 in. across, produced in clusters on the old wood, usually two to four on each cluster, scarlet to blood-red. Fruit stalkless, green-yellow, specked with small dots, 2 to 21⁄2 in. long and wide, apple-shaped or pear-shaped, fragrant. Bot. Mag., t. 692.
Native of China, long cultivated in Japan; introduced by Sir Jos. Banks to Kew in 1796, and for many years now one of the best-known and most admired of hardy shrubs. For more than a century it was known both to gardeners and to botanists as Pyrus or Cydonia “japonica” in the erroneous belief that it was the Pyrus japonica of Thunberg (see further under C. japonica). It sometimes commences to flower before Christmas, especially when grown on a wall, and is usually in blossom by February or March, continuing until June, or even later. Sometimes autumn flowers are produced in distinct racemes instead of the stalkless clusters usual to the species; in these cases the flowers are produced alternately on stalks 1 in. or more long, as many as half a dozen on each raceme. C. speciosa loves the sun, and flowers most freely planted against a south wall. Perhaps it is seen at its best in some sheltered sunny spot as a wide-spreading lawn shrub. It stands pruning well, summer pruning being best. Sometimes it is successfully used as a hedge plant.
According to Weber, the original introduction of C. speciosa in 1796 was probably sterile and propagated by vegetative means; but in 1830 Siebold brought from Japan a number of colour forms which, intercrossed, gave rise to further variants, large numbers of which were named and distributed by nurserymen in the last century. Further variation, both in colour and habit, followed on the introduction of C. japonica in 1896, and since then the hybrids between the two species (C. × superba) have come to predominate in gardens. In many instances it would be impossible, without botanical scrutiny, to decide whether a particular garden variety should be regarded as a colour form of C. speciosa or as one of its hybrids with C. japonica and for the gardener the problem is not of great importance. The following is a selection of those that can with reasonable certainty be ascribed to C. speciosa. All, unless otherwise stated, attain a height of 4 to 6 ft in the open ground, somewhat more on a wall:
‘Cardinalis’ – Flowers crimson-scarlet, about 11⁄2in. across; an old variety raised by Spath around 1885. Not to be confused with ‘Cardinal’, which is a form of C. × californica.
‘Falconnet Charlet’. – A vigorous variety with double, salmon-pink flowers. Also known as ‘Rosea Plena’.
‘Moerloosii’. – Flowers large, white overlaid with pink and carmine. Raised in the mid-nineteenth century by Moerloos of Ledeberg, Belgium. Sometimes known incorrectly as ‘Apple Blossom’.
‘Nivalis’. – A vigorous variety with pure white flowers raised by Lemoine about 1880 but still the best of its kind.
‘Phylis Moore’. – Flowers double, salmon-rose; owing to its sparse habit it is better grown on a wall. Raised by the Knap Hill nursery and named after the wife of Sir Frederick Moore, for many years Keeper of the Glasnevin Botanic Garden.
‘Rubra Grandiflora’. – Flowers crimson, very large; habit low and spreading. An old variety, raised in Belgium.
‘Simonii’. – Low-growing, with deep red, semi-doubleflowers.
‘Umbilicata’. – A vigorous variety introduced from Japan by Siebold in 1847; flowers deep pink.
C. × vilmoriniana Weber C. vedrariensis Hort. – This cross between C. speciosa and C. cathayensis was first made in the Vilmorin nurseries in 1921. Later a hybrid of the same parentage arose spontaneously in the nursery of W. B. Clarke of San Jose, California, and was put into commerce as ‘Mount Everest’, followed by its seedling ‘Afterglow’. All are heavily armed shrubs reaching to about 8 ft high, with long, sharply toothed leaves and white flowers, flushed with pink.