Plant Collector: Tetracentron sinense

Tetracentron sinense

Tetracentron sinense

The Tetracentron sinense growing in our park is a pretty special tree for us. We rate it as a small tree – after five decades it is still only about six metres high and with a graceful, arching habit of growth. It is deciduous and the fresh spring growth emerges pink which seems appropriate for heart shaped leaves, but only briefly before it turns green, though keeping the red stems.

Sinense means it comes from China, on the western reaches where it borders with Nepal. It is a relatively late discovery, dating to 1901. As far as is known, there are no other members of the Tetracentron family (which makes it monotypic – meaning one of a kind). Our tree grew from seed collected in the 1950s. Frank Kingdon-Ward (often incorrectly referred to as Kingdom Ward) was an intrepid British plant collector and, like many of his forbears, financed some of his expeditions by selling subscriptions in return for seed. Mark’s father, Felix Jury, subscribed though we don’t know now how much he contributed. He received the tetracentron and a rhus which we could have done without.

It flowers in summer with relatively insignificant yellow catkins, though loved by bees. In our climate we don’t get autumn colour and I can’t find any mention in the literature so I would guess nobody else does either. I did find wildly varied accounts of its ultimate size – up to 40 metres in fact which is enormous. I can’t think that our specimen, rated by international experts who have seen it as a large example, is ever going to get to that stature. However it is apparently rare in the wild (sightings are recorded) so perhaps the heights are more a case of guesstimates.

First published in the Waikato Times and reproduced here with their permission.

2 thoughts on “Plant Collector: Tetracentron sinense

  1. Tim Whitley

    Where abouts is your tetracentron growing ?
    Are there any examples of earlier plantings in the British Isles?
    I see from tree register there is one in Edinburgh botanical garden

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      We are on the west coast of the North Island (of NZ) so mild, coastal conditions. The tetracentron is growing in our park in an area which is largely protected from strong winds and open to plenty of sunshine. I don’t know its history in the UK though there are probably older specimens there because it was discovered earlier than the Kingdon Ward expedition which brought our seed. However, our growing conditions here are so favourable that as a rule, plants grow much more quickly and much larger than in cooler climates like the UK.

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