Chinese Varnish Tree
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Chinese Varnish Tree
ative Photo: Gurcharan Singh
Common name: Chinese Varnish Tree, Varnish Tree, Japanese Laquer Tree • Hindi: arkhol, kakra-singi
Botanical name: Toxicodendron vernicifluum    Family: Anacardiaceae (Cashew family)
Synonyms: Rhus succedanea var. himalaica, Rhus verniciflua

Chinese Varnish Tree is a tree that grows in East Asia, in regions of China, Korea, Japan and also in NW Himalayas. The trees are cultivated and tapped for their toxic sap, which is used as a highly durable lacquer to make Chinese, Japanese, and Korean lacquerware. It is a 15-20 m tall tree with compound leaves having 7-13 leaflets. Leaflets are 10 to 20 cm long and 3 to 7 cm wide. Berries are straw-coloured, 1 cm in diameter. The milky latex turns black in a few minutes when exposed to air. The sap acts skin-irritating chemically and is allergizing. The dried lacquer is skin-irritating only for very few people. A caustic, toxic sap, called urushiol, is tapped from the trunk of the Chinese lacquer tree to produce varnish. Products coated with varnish are recognizable by an extremely durable and glossy finish. Lacquer has many uses; some common applications include tableware, musical instruments, fountain pens, jewelry, and bows. In India the tree is found in NW Himalayas, from Kashmir to Nepal, at altitudes of 1524-2450 m.

Identification credit: Gurcharan Singh
Photographed in Dachhigam, Kashmir.
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