An evergreen tree up to 20 or 30 ft high, of rounded, bushy form; young branches thick and woolly. Leaves varying in size according to the vigour of the plant, sometimes 1 ft. long by 5 in. wide; ordinarily 6 to 9 in. long and 3 to 4 in. wide; wrinkled, coarsely but not deeply toothed, strongly set with parallel ribs 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 in. apart; stalk very short and woolly. The lower surface is covered with a brownish wool, whilst the upper is dark glossy green and glabrous, except when young, being then covered with a loose white floss. Flowers 3⁄4 in. across, fragrant like hawthorn, closely packed on a stiff, terminal, pyramidal panicle, 3 to 6 in. high, the stalks and calyx covered with a dense brown wool; petals yellowish white. Fruit pear-shaped or oblong, 11⁄2 in. long, yellow; sometimes formed but rarely ripened in England. Blossoms in autumn.
Native of China and Japan; introduced to England in 1787 by Sir Joseph Banks, but not hardy enough to have ever become widely cultivated. It can only be grown against a south wall at Kew, where a plant has grown well for over thirty years, and makes a handsome and striking display of foliage, but rarely flowers. But at Maidwell Hall, Northamptonshire, in the heart of the Midlands, there is a specimen on a wall which is not only quite hardy there but bears fruit in most years; it has narrower leaves than the form commonly seen in cultivation. In the Mediterranean region this species is cultivated for its fruits, which ripen in spring and are known as ‘nespole’ or ‘néfliers’ – names which belong properly to the medlar (Mespilus germanica). It is best raised from seeds obtained from Southern Europe, where there are several named varieties, or by vegetative propagation from a tree of proved hardiness. Its leaves are amongst the handsomest in all evergreens that can be grown out-of-doors.
cv. ‘Variegata’. – Leaves variegated with white. It was awarded first prize amongst new plants at the Ghent Exhibition of 1913.