Its existence as a species was discovered from fossils in 1941 by Japanese paleobotanist (someone who studies plant fossils), Shigeru Miki, who was studying specimens that had come from the States.
By a strange twist of fate, that same year, a Chinese forester, T Kan, who was with the Red Army partisans, came across an unusual deciduous (sheds its leaves in the winter) conifer next to the temple in the village of Mo-Tao-Chi in China. He asked the village schoolmaster to send him leaf specimens in Spring. However, it was 1946 by the time Professor Hu of the Botanical Institute in Beijing received samples. Professor Hu, who had seen Miki's published work, alerted the world to the existence of a tree thought to have died out 3 million years ago.
In 1947, the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard provided funding for a seed collecting expedition, and by 1948 samples were sent to the world's main botanical gardens. There are trees grown from this batch of seeds at Emmanuel College and the botanical gardens in Cambridge.
Characterised by its deciduous nature and the leaflets occurring in opposite pairs on the stem, it is not known whether there are any examples growing in Hatfield.