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Plants from the Ground Up

Tetracentron sinense – A Rare Wonder from China

This rare and elegant find from China has captured my heart. Tetracentron sinense is a wonderful and unique tree native to southern China and the eastern Himalaya. A strong growing deciduous tree, it typically reaches 30-50 feet in cultivation, although it can become as tall as 90 feet in the wild. Graceful arching branches radiate from the trunk to form a broad-rounded crown. The rough-textured 3-5 inch heart-shaped leaves feature serrated margins with 5-7 palmate veins. The leaves drape down in alternate arrangement along the brown-red stems. They emerge in spring with a lovely rose tint before maturing to a very deep-green. In summer, interesting long (4-6 inch) yellow-green catkins hang down along the branches creating a very unusual and showy display. These wind-pollinated flowers make their appearance from June to July before becoming small brown fruits, each containing 4-6 seeds. In autumn the leaves turn from yellow to orange to red before leaf fall.

Tetracentron sinense

Native to forest and stream margins, this tree needs adequate moisture and cooler climates to thrive. It needs protection from strong winds and is most happy in sun with dappled afternoon shade. Tetracentron sinense does particularly well in the Pacific Northwest. It is very unusual in that it lacks the water-conducting vessels found in higher plants. Instead it has tracheids (a type of water-conducting cell in the xylem that lacks perforations in the cell wall), which serve to conduct water and dissolved minerals throughout the plant. It has become quite rare in its native habitat due to its lack of ability to regenerate and it is currently listed on the Apendix III of CITES (Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species).

Like so many wonderful trees from China, this specimen was introduced to the west by E. H. “Chinese” Wilson. He brought Tetracentron to the west in 1901 and in 1909 his photographs of the trees growing in China were first published in “Garden Notes on New Trees and Shrubs” by W. J. Bean

Tetracentron is in the Trochodendraceae family. The genus Tetracentron comes from the Greek words tetra meaning four and kentron meaning spur. Although there is no agreed upon common name, it is sometimes called spur-leaf. This excellent tree is underutilized as a landscape tree. With its stunning form and beautiful foliage, I hope to see it added to many gardens and parks. Tetracentron is hardy to USDA winter hardiness zone 6 and can be propagated by cuttings or seed.

Tetracentron sinense

Tetracentron sinense – Bark


Tetracentron sinense - Spring growth

Tetracentron sinense – Spring growth

For more photos and information, see Tetracentron sinense at the Forestfarm Store.

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