Cephalotaxus sinensis / Chinese plum-yew

Cephalotaxus sinensis, as described in 1953 by (Rehder et Wilson) Hui Lin Li, in Lloydia, 16th edition, is commonly known as Chinese plum-yew; as well as 粗榧 (cu fei) in the Chinese language. The species name acknowledges this conifer as a Chinese endemic.

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Description. Chinese plum-yew in an evergreen, coniferous species of shrub or small tree that grows to mature heights of 50 to 65 feet (12 - 15 m) tall, with a trunk up to 48 inches (120 cm) in diameter, measured at breast height.

  • Bark is red, gray, or gray-brown in color.
  • Twigs are elliptic, oblong, or more usually obovate-rectangular in outline, growing on a plane, measuring 2 to 4.8 inches (5 - 12 cm) long and 1.6 to 3.2 inches (4 - 8 cm) broad.
  • Leaves are borne more-or-less perpendicular to branchlet axis, or directed forward at a 50 to 85° angle; petioles measure 0.04 inch (1 mm) if they are present at all. Leaf blades are green in color adaxially, with a linear or linear-lanceolate outline, and more-or-less parallel-sided almost throughout their length and tapered from near apex only, or tapered from point above middle of blade but well below apex. Individual needles grow straight or very slightly falcate and flat, measuring 0.72 to 1 inch (1.8 - 5 cm) long and 0.08 to 0.14 inch (2 - 3.5 mm), or 7 to 10 times as long as wide. They have a leathery but relatively soft texture. Midveins measure 0.008 to 0.024 inch (0.2 - 0.6 mm) wide. Abaxially, stomatal bands are white in color (very rarely green), measuring 0.032 to 0.048 inch (0.8 - 1.2 mm) wide, consisting of 12 to 15 rows of stomata, 2 to 4 times as wide as midvein. Marginal bands measure 0.004 to 0.012 inch (0.1 - 0.3 mm) wide, with cuneate or rounded-cuneate bases, appearing symmetric or very slightly asymmetric, narrowly revolute margins, and acute and shortly mucronate to long acuminate apices.
  • Pollen cone clusters are globose, measuring 0.16 to 0.28 inch (4 - 7 mm) in diameter, each with 6 to 7 pinkish brown cones. They are attached by a circe 0.12 inch (3 mm) long peduncle. Microsporophylls number 4 to 11, each with 2 to 4 pollen sacs.
  • Seed cones are either solitary or borne in clusters of 2 to 5, attached by a 0.12 to 0.24 inch (3 - 8 mm) long peduncle. Seed scales are grayish green, and ovate, with shortly cuspidate apices. Arils are red or reddish purple when ripe, measuring 0.64 to 1 inch (1.6 - 2.5 cm) long and 0.32 to 0.64 inch (0.8 - 1.6 cm) broad, with 6 prominent, longitudinal ridges.
  • Seeds are ovoid or obovoid to ellipsoid, measuring 0.72 to 1 inch (1.8 - 2.5 cm) long and 0.36 to 0.48 inch (0.9 - 1.2 cm) broad, with mucronate or cuspidate apices.
This conifer can be distinguished from C. wilsoniana in that sinensis leaves are 5-10 times as long as wide, and are parallel-sided and tapered near apex only, while wilsoniana leaves are about 10 times as long as wide, and are often tapered from a point above the middle of the blade but well below the apex.

Distribution. This species is native to China — southern Anhui, Fujian, southern Gansu, southwestern Guangdong, Guangxi, northeastern Guizhou, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, southern Jiangsu, Jiangxi, southern Shaanxi, Sichuan, central and northern Taiwan, southeastern Yunnan, and Zhejiang provinces; and under cultivation in Shandong. It grows at elevations of 2,000 to 10,000 feet (600 - 3,000 m) above sea level in montane conifer or mixed forests, thickets, stream valleys, valley bottoms, and open situations, on granite, sandstone, and limestone substrates. It is widespread, thus relatively little threatened.

Hardy to USDA Zone 7, cold hardiness limit between 0º to 10ºF (-17.7° and -12.2°C).

Attribution from: Fu Liguo (傅立国), Li Nan (李楠), and Robert R. Mill; Sections on Cephalotaxaceae, Ginkgoaceae and Pinaceae; In Wu Zheng-yi and Peter H. Raven (editors); Flora of China, Volume 4; ©1999, Science Press, Beijing.

Cephalotaxus sinensis — Green Industry Images; copyrighted photo; donated by Ernie Wiegand.
Photo by Ernie Wiegand
Cephalotaxus sinensis — a mature specimen at Arnold Arboretum, Boston, Massachusetts.
Photo by Bostonian13, via Wikipedia Commons, CC by SA 3.0
Cephalotaxus sinensis — a closeup of foliage detail.
Photo by Bostonian13, via Wikipedia Commons, CC by SA 3.0

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