A deciduous shrub up to 8 or 10 ft high, with slender, spreading branches; young shoots perfectly glabrous, round, and marked with small whitish lenticels. Leaves alternate, firm, very broadly ovate to roundish, heart-shaped or truncate at the base, blunt and rounded at the apex, 2 to 41⁄2 in. long, and almost or quite as broad, perfectly glabrous, glaucous green and entire; stalk 1 to 2 in. long. Flowers dark purple, two of them set back to back at the end of a stalk 1⁄4 in. long, produced from the leaf-axils. Each flower is 1⁄2 in. across, with five narrow tapering petals, arranged starwise, its odour faint and unpleasant; calyx with five short recurved lobes; stamens five. Seed-vessel a nut-like capsule. Bot. Mag., t. 8716.
Native of Japan; introduced in 1893 but even now, three-quarters of a century later, still rather uncommon in gardens. The flowers, borne in October, are not attractive. It does, however, possess one excellent quality: its foliage – handsome and Judas-tree-like in form – turns in autumn to lovely shades of claret-red and purple, sometimes suffused with orange. Few shrubs, indeed, are more beautiful in this respect. Except when young, it is quite hardy, but a rather difficult shrub to satisfy. At Kew it has not been a success and other gardeners too have reported failure. It appears to need a good, deep, moist and lime-free soil and is most at home in light woodland, where it is protected from wind and strong sun. In such conditions it thrives admirably and never fails to colour well every autumn. At the Winkworth Arboretum, Surrey, there is a group growing in full sun by the lake, but isolated plants might not thrive so well in such a position.
It resembles its ally the Virginian witch-hazel in flowering in October when the previous year’s seeds are ripening.