A deciduous tree up to 80 ft high, with a thick, corky bark; young shoots slightly hairy. Leaves oblong or narrowly oval, 3 to 7 in. long, 1 to 2 in. wide, broadly tapered or somewhat rounded at the base, pointed, the margins set with bristle-like teeth 1⁄10 in. long, which terminate the nine to sixteen pairs of parallel veins; upper surface dark dullish green, glabrous; lower one pale grey and covered with a minute close felt.
Native of China, Japan, and Korea; introduced by Fortune in 1861, and in 1882 by Dr Bretschneider; in both instances from the neighbourhood of Peking, where it is a common tree. Although a finer tree than its near ally, Q. acutissima, its foliage is not so bright. It differs from that species most noticeably in the whitish undersurface and smaller teeth of the leaves. The acorn also is smaller and almost hidden in the cup, which has long curly scales. The bark has some economic value as a source of cork. On young trees it is blackish at first, and is not long before it shows its corky nature.
Q. variabilis is represented at Kew by several trees of which the oldest is from the Bretschneider introduction of 1882. This measures 48 × 33⁄4 ft (1973). Two others were raised from seeds collected by Wilson in W. Szechwan in 1908 during his Arnold Arboretum expedition, the larger 39 × 31⁄4 ft (1972). Others are: Borde Hill, Sussex, in Stonepit Wood, 30 × 3 ft (1967); Caerhays, Cornwall, 30 × 31⁄2 ft (1966) and a smaller tree, pl. 1923, raised from seed collected by Forrest in Yunnan (F.22256).