One of the rarest conifers in USA collections is Keteleeria evelyniana. This evergreen tree from China is so “new” in our country and so poorly represented it’s difficult to conclude much about the possible range of the species in our country. Still, it remains an interesting, attractive tree, albeit one that has yet to be fully evaluated for its potential in southern USA. Our lone Keteeleria evelyniana (SFA# 106300) lies in a sunny spot on the eastern side of the Art building at the SFA Mast Arboretum. We have the three accepted species of Keteleeria at the SFA Gardens. K. evelyniana is unique, primarily because the foliage is soft and not unpleasant when touched. K. davidiana and K. fortunei, on the other hand, are quite prickly and can stab when grabbed. All three have done well at the SFA Gardens.
It is generally accepted that Keteleeria is a genus of three species of coniferous trees in the family Pinaceae. The genus name honors J.B. Keteleer (1813-1903), a French nurseryman. All three genera share the unusual feature of male cones produced in umbels of several together from a single bud, and also in their ability, very rare in the Pinaceae, of being able to coppice (sprout from a stump).
They are evergreen trees reaching 35 m tall. The leaves are flat, needle-like, 1.5-7 cm long and 2-4 mm broad. The cones are erect, 6-22 cm long, and mature in about 6-8 months after pollination; cone size and scale shape is very variable within all three species. The variability of the cones has led in the past to the description of several additional species (up to 16 ‘species’ have been named), but most authorities now only accept three species.
Keteleeria is a really attractive evergreen tree to 100’ in its native habitat. Rare in its home, the species is reported in southern China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and northern Laos and Cambodia. The species is endangered and Keteeleria conservation areas are established to protect the species. Found mainly in China: S Gansu, S Shaanxi, E Sichuan, Yunnan, SW Hubei, Guizhou, Guangxi, Hunan, Guangdong (with the island of Hainan), SW Jiangxi, Fujian and Zhejiang. Keteleeria is also found on Taiwan and on Hong Kong Island. Isolated populations also occur in the mountains of N Laos and S Vietnam (Farjon 1990).
The fact they are attractive has led to their theft as a Christmas tree – and in one case at The Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle, Washington, in 2009, the loss of a seven foot K. evelyniana led to great sorrow and dismay. That theft and the news article led me to realize that the K. evelyniana in our garden was rare, bigger and thus quite valuable. The link to that tragedy is HERE.
At the Golden Temple overlooking Kunming the Keteleeria forest was shouting cones in November 2012. The species was labeled K. fortunei. The following images were taken.
The images below were provided by Chris Reynolds who was the curator at the Bedgebury Pinetum in the UK. This remarkable tree was at the Shennong Sacrificial Temple near Shennongjia National park in Hubei. Chris Reynolds was there as part of a trip with the BGCI congress in 2007. Chris and Larry Larry Melichamp (retired UNC, Chapel Hill, NC) were led by their Chinese hosts to this special tree referring to it as a Metasequoia – it didn’t take long to realize the tree was an exceptionally large and revered Keteleeria davidiana basking in its hillside home.
Farjon, Aljos. 1990. Pinaceae: drawings and descriptions of the genera Abies, Cedrus, Pseudolarix, Keteleeria, Nothotsuga, Tsuga, Cathaya, Pseudotsuga, Larix and Picea. Königstein: Koeltz Scientific Books.