Herbs & Plants (Spices)

Cephalotaxus fortunei

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Botanical Name: Cephalotaxus fortunei
Family: Cephalotaxaceae
Genus: Cephalotaxus
Species: C. fortunei
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Pinophyta
Class: Pinopsida
Order: Pinales

Synonyms: C. filiformis. C. mascula. C. pendula.

Common Names: Chinese plum-yew, Simply plum yew, Chinese cowtail pine or in Chinese as san jian shan

Habitat:Cephalotaxus fortunei is native to northern Burma and China, but is sometimes grown in western gardens where it has been in cultivation since 1848 . It grows on woodlands, especially in limestone regions. Mixed, coniferous, and broad-leaved forests, thickets and roadsides at elevations of 200 – 3700 metres.

Cephalotaxus fortunei is a shrub or small tree growing to as high as 20 m with a diameter at breast height of about 20 cm. They are usually multi-stemmed with an open and loosely rounded crown. In cultivation they tend to grow on a single stem that is often leaning and bare towards the bottom, but with dense foliage on the upper half. They have reddish brown bark that appears purplish in places with rough square scales and long shreds peeling off. The new shoots remain green for three years after emerging and are ribbed. The branches are slightly pendulous, while the branchlets are obovate, obtriangular or almost rectangular in outline, measuring from 4 to 21 cm long by 3 to 20 cm wide.


It is in leaf 12-Jan It is in flower from Apr to May, and the seeds ripen from Oct to November. The flowers are dioecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but only one sex is to be found on any one plant so both male and female plants must be grown if seed is required) and are pollinated by Wind.The plant is not self-fertile.

Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil
Prefers a moist well-drained sandy soil but succeeds in most soils though it dislikes dry gravelly or chalky soils. Prefers a position in semi-shade but tolerates full shade and it also succeeds but does not usually thrive in full sun. It grows very well in the mild wet coastal region of W. Scotland where it succeeds even in full sun. Requires a humid sheltered site, strongly disliking very exposed positions. Although the dormant plant is very cold-hardy, the young growth in spring, even on mature plants, is frost-tender and so it is best to grow the plants in a position sheltered from the early morning sun. The Chinese plum yew is a very slow growing shrub or small tree that has excellent potential as a nut crop in Britain. It usually fruits regularly and well in most parts of the country and does well in Cornwall. Trees growing in the shade of other conifers fruit regularly and heavily at Kew Botanical gardens and, unlike most nut trees there, the seeds do not get eaten by the squirrels. Although we have seen no records of edibility for the seed of this species, the closely related C. harringtonia does have edible seed. There are some named forms selected for their ornamental value. ‘Grandis’ is a long leafed female form. ‘Longifolia’ is male but otherwise similar to ‘Grandis’. ‘Prostrata’ (syn ‘Prostrate Spreader’) is a procumbent ground-covering plant that arose as cuttings from a side-shoot of a normal plant, a plant of this cultivar was seen with a very heavy crop of immature fruit in mid September 1994 at Hillier Arboretum. Plants are dioecious, but female plants sometimes produce fruits and infertile seeds in the absence of any male plants. However, at least one male plant for every five females should be grown if you are growing the plants for fruit and seed. Plants have also been known to change sex. Male cones are produced in the axils of the previous year’s leaves, whilst female cones are borne at the base of branchlets.

Seed – best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame, it should then germinate in the following spring. A hard seedcoat can delay germination, especially in if the seed is not sown as soon as it is ripe. Stored seed should be cold-stratified and sown in a cold frame in the spring. Germination can take 18 months or more. Prick out the seedlings as soon as they are large enough to handle and grow them on for at least their first winter under cover. Plant out in late spring after the last expected frosts. Greenwood cuttings of terminal shoots, August/September in a humid cold frame. Difficult
Edible Uses:
Fruit. Fairly large, it is about 30mm x 15mm. We have no further details, though it is closely related to C. harringtonia, the fruit of which is edible raw if fully ripe. The fruit does not always ripen in Britain, before full ripeness it has a disgusting resinous flavour that coats the mouth and refuses to go away for hours. It is quite possible that the seed of this species is also edible.
Medicinal Uses:

Substances from the plant have shown anticancer activity.

Other Uses:
Hedge; Hedge.

Some forms of this species are procumbent in habit and can be used as ground cover in shady places. Very tolerant of pruning, this plant makes a very good hedge in shady positions


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