An evergreen shrub or small tree to about 12 ft high, glabrous in all its parts. Leaves alternate, leathery, entire, narrow-oblong to ovate-oblong, 23⁄4 to 4 in. long, 4⁄5 to 13⁄5 in. wide, bluntly pointed at the apex, narrowly wedge-shaped at the base, glossy deep green above, paler beneath; leaf-stalks to 4⁄5 in. long. Flowers white to yellowish white, about 1⁄2 in. across, borne singly or up to three together in each leaf-axil on the previous year’s wood, or on short spurs; flower-stalks 2⁄5 to 3⁄5 in. long, with two small early deciduous bracteoles; sepals five, rounded, about 1⁄8 in. long; petals rather fleshy, narrow-oblong; stamens numerous, anthers bearded; style with two or three stigmas. Fruit a pea-sized berry, red ripening to black.
Native of Japan, Formosa, Korea, China, Burma, Assam and of the Himalaya as far west as Nepal. As might be expected from so wide a distribution, the species is very variable. The plants in cultivation seem to fall under one or other of two varieties, namely:
var. japonica C. japonica var. kaempferiana (DC.) Sealy; C. ochnacea var. kaempferiana DC. – This has relatively small leaves (blades mostly 2 to 22⁄5 in. by 7⁄8 to 11⁄5 in. and petioles 1⁄4 to 1⁄3 in. long), shorter flower-stalks 1⁄4 to 2⁄5 (rarely 1⁄2) in. long and a smaller calyx; this is native in Japan.
var. wallichiana (DC.) Sealy C. ochnacea var. wallichiana DC. – This variety has longer leaves (blades 22⁄5 to 32⁄5 in. by 11⁄5 to 13⁄5 in. and petioles 1⁄3 to 2⁄5 in. long); flower-stalks 1⁄2 to 1 in. long and calyx larger. Native of China and Nepal. Bot. Mag., t. 9606.
C. japonica was once grown in greenhouses for its handsome evergreen foliage and fragrant flowers, which are borne in June-July, and for its long-lasting red fruits. The Japanese variety should be hardy in a sheltered position except in the coldest parts of the country. There are several plants in the Edinburgh Botanic Garden, some of them raised from seed sent by Forrest under field number 16080. Some plants grown as C. japonica or ochnacea may be Eurya japonica, which is easily distinguished by its rather inconspicuous unisexual flowers and toothed leaves. See also Ternstroemia gymnanthera.