A deciduous tree 20 to 50 ft high, its young shoots at first silky downy, yellowish grey. Leaves obovate, rounded at the apex, tapered at the base; 14 to 21 in. long, 5 to 10 in. wide, glabrous and rather pale green above, glaucous and clothed with pale fine down beneath; lateral veins twenty to thirty, prominent beneath; stalk 1 to 11⁄2 in. long. Flower white, fragrant, cupped, 6 to 8 in. across, produced in early summer at the end of the leafy young growth; flower-stalk thick and downy. Sepals and petals nine to twelve, fleshy, up to 4 in. long and 11⁄2 in. wide; stamens numerous, red. Fruits oblong to egg-shaped, flat at the top, 4 to 5 in. high, 21⁄2 in. wide.
Native of W. Hupeh, China; discovered by Henry about 1885, introduced by Wilson in 1900. At first it was confused with the beautiful M. hypoleuca, with which it is almost identical in foliage. It differs in the yellowish-grey young shoots (purplish in hypoleuca) and flat-topped fruit. It is not so large a tree although equally beautiful in flower and noble in leaf. It is cultivated in W. China for its bark and flower-buds, which yield a drug valued by the Chinese for the medicinal properties. It is quite hardy. As it was sent out by Messrs Veitch as the “Chinese hypoleuca”, it no doubt exists unrecognised in some gardens under that name.
var. biloba Rehd. & Wils. – Leaves deeply and conspicuously notched at the apex, otherwise similar to the type. This variety was introduced by Messrs Hillier in 1936, by means of seeds received from the Lushan Botanic Garden. Five plants were raised, of which one now grows in the Valley Gardens, Windsor Great Park. G. H. Johnstone remarked that typical M. officinalis often bears notched leaves, but in the Windsor plant almost every leaf is of this character.