A shrub with multiple properties, the Xanthoceras sorbifolium, or “yellowhorn”, is widely used in Asian medicine. It is also popular choice for decorative purposes, with its abundant white bloom.
Xanthoceras is translated by “yellow (xanthos in Greek) horn (kerato in Greek)”, referring to the roots colour. Sorbifolium means “with leaves resembling Sorbus leaves”.
Description and flowering period
It is an erect shrub reaching from 2 to 5 meters in height. Its bark is rough to the touch, greyish-brown in colour and becomes ridged with age. The compound alternate leaves are deciduous, bright-green, pinnate with numerous toothed, lance-shaped leaflets. In May, along with the new foliage come the flowers which are borne in panicles (an inflorescence in which the main axis has several lateral branches, each of which is also branched). The flowers are star-shaped with 5 petals with wavy margins, they are predominantly white but the base of each petal is tinted with yellow then with reddish-pink. The fruits are large pear-shaped capsules, first green then brown once mature. They open in 3 sections to release between 5 and 15 large, spherical, dark brown seeds. Their taste is said to be similar to sweet chestnuts.
It requires a deep yet free-draining soil in full sun or part-shade, sheltered from strong frosts and winds. It is hardy to -15°C but requires warmth to flower. The species is drought tolerant.
- Food & drink: The seeds are turned into an oil rich in unsaturated fatty acids, oleic and linoleic acids.
- Traditional crafts: The oil is used to make soaps and oil-based paints, the leaves are turned into a biofuel, the wood is used to make furniture and the tanins contained in the bark are used to make dye.
- Medicinal: It was traditionally used (until 2003 where its use was banned) for its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties; to treat high blood pressure and rheumatisms.
- Ecological: It is used as soil cover during the early stages of reforestation efforts.
It is the only known species within the Genus.