Your reaction to the first photograph may be that this is a strange rose blossom. But, this is not a rose flower–nor is it any flower, for that matter. It’s actually an immature seed cone of a conifer species from southeastern Asia: Keteleeria evelyniana. And no, it doesn’t make a habit of tricking people, this is just an excellently composed photograph of a cone taken at exactly the right stage of development (see a photo of older cones for comparison). The female (seed) cones are much larger than the pollen-producing male cones; mature female cones average around 15cm (6 in.) in length.
Keteleeria evelyniana lacks a common name in English. The species is a somewhat tall member of the Pinaceae (pine family), reaching heights of perhaps 40m (130 ft.) in ideal conditions. Found at elevations from 700-2900m (2300-9500 ft.), this species is native to mountainous subtropical environments with rainfalls typically exceeding 2000 mm in China, Laos, and Vietnam. It is one of only a few pine family species to grow in such climates.
The species is valuable economically. Its timber is insect-resistant, and used in the construction of furniture, railroads, and houses, while essential oils from the seeds can be extracted for incense or soap products. A fairly rapid growth-rate makes it suitable for plantations.
Keteleeria evelyniana is currently listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN. Exploitation for timber as well as conversion of natural habitat for agriculture have fueled the decline of this species. Vietnam saw a 30% decline of its populations in recent generations, while China has the largest and most widespread numbers. Since it was assessed in 2013, protections for this species are increasing; some forest stands have become nature reserves while other forests are seeing increased regulation and management. In a sad turn of events closer to UBC, a tree of Keteleeria evelyniana was cut down in the Washington Park Arboretum in 2009, by someone possibly in search of a Christmas tree (link: The Seattle Times). Very much adored by the staff of the arboretum according to reports, this tree was planted in 1998 and originated from China’s Yunnan province.
Of the three species that make up Keteleeria, Keteleeria evelyniana and Keteleeria davidiana are extremely similar. They are distinguished most readily by the seed scales and seed wings (as long as the plants have mature cones!). Keteleeria, the monotypic Nothotsuga, and the monotypic Pseudolarix, are also closely-related on the genus level; all three genera are alike in both their production of male cones in umbels from a single bud and their ability to coppice. Few species in the pine family have this latter property, whereby shoots from stumps or roots will regrow after being cut (and another reason why it is good for timber plantations).