A deciduous tree occasionally over 100 ft high in the wild but so far not much over 60 ft in cultivation and then only when grown in woodland conditions; often, both in the wild and in gardens, it is many-stemmed from the base, wide-spreading but of no great height. Bark in cultivated trees pale grey (Hooker in his Journal describes the bark of the trees on Sinchul near Darjeeling as almost black, but this colouring may be due to lichens or algae). Leaves usually broadly elliptic, shortly acuminate or apiculate at the apex, rounded, obliquely rounded, or broad-cuneate at the base, 6 to 10 in. long, medium green and glabrous above, covered beneath with appressed hairs at least when young and usually permanently so (the leaves on some wild specimens are more narrowly elliptic and tapered at both ends). Flower-buds ovoid, hairy. Flowers produced in early spring before the leaves on usually glabrous peduncles; they are about 10 in. across with twelve to sixteen tepals which are clear pink, crimson, or white on the outside, paler within when coloured, the outer ones spreading, the inner four upright in the mature flower but forming a cap over the stamens and pistils when the flower first expands. Fruits about 8 in. long. Bot. Mag. t. 6793.
Native of the Himalaya from Nepal to Assam, commonest between 8,000 and 10,000 ft – a zone in which the forest is dominated by magnoliaceous species, oaks, and tree-rhododendrons; described in 1855 but known earlier. The first of many introductions was around 1865. M. campbellii is believed to have first flowered in the British Isles at Lakelands, Co. Cork, Ireland, in 1885; among the earliest flowerings in England were: Veitch’s Exeter nursery (1895), Abbotsbury, Dorset, (c. 1900); Leonardslee, Sussex (1907).
This fine tree – perhaps the most magnificent of the magnolias – flowers from February to early April according to the season and its flower-buds are susceptible to damage by frost and chilling winds from the time they first begin to swell. But the many thriving specimens at Kew and in gardens south of London testify to the hardiness of this species, even though the crop of flowers may be lost there more frequently than in south Cornwall and other more favoured regions. Unfortunately, fifteen to twenty or even more years will pass before the tree first produces flowers, by which time it may be 25 ft high.
M. campbellii thrives remarkably well at Kew, where there are two specimens – one, by the Victoria Gate, planted in 1904, and another of about the same age in a more open position near the Azalea Garden. The former produced well over 500 flowers of a good pink in 1959 (Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 84, p. 421 and fig. 120); the latter flowered well in 1972. In the woodland gardens of Sussex M. campbellii, though it may not flower so frequently as in Cornwall, grows just as well. A specimen at Wakehurst Place measures 60 × 71⁄4 ft (1969) and the largest at Caerhays in Cornwall is 66 × 7 ft (1971). At Windsor Great Park near London, where the climate is by no means ideal for the Asiatic tree magnolias, M. campbellii attained a height of 35 ft and a spread of 18 ft in seventeen years and produced its first flowers when sixteen years old (Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 88 (1963), p. 461).
f. alba Hort. – White-flowered trees of M. campbellii are said to be common in the wild, but in the gardens of this country they are rare. The largest recorded grows in the Tolls at Borde Hill, Sussex; it was received from Messrs Gill in 1925 as ordinary M. campbellii, first flowered about 1949 and is now 62 × 4 ft (1968). The original white-flowered specimen at Caerhays, raised from seeds received from Darjeeling in 1926, was severely cut by frost in 1939 and is only 37 ft high (1966). It received a First Class Certificate when a flowering branch was shown at Vincent Square in 1951. Seedlings from it planted in 1957 have grown with remarkable vigour, the largest of them being 35 × 13⁄4 ft by 1966. The first of them flowered in that year, only nine years planted (see further in ‘The Garden at Caerhays’ by Julian Williams, Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 91 (1966), p. 285). In Eire there is a white-flowered example of M. campbellii in Garinish Island, Co. Cork, 38 ft high, on two stems (1966).
A tree of M. campbellii with flowers of a rich pink grows in the Lloyd Botanic Garden, Darjeeling, India, with flowers of an exceptionally dark pink (‘wine-coloured’ according to Collingwood Ingram in A Garden of Memories (1970), p. 129). A seedling from this, growing in the garden of Sir George Jessel at Goudhurst, Kent, flowers usually late for this species – towards the end of April or even into early May. It received an Award of Merit on April 18, 1972. Graft-wood from the Darjeeling tree was procured recently by Messrs Hillier, who have given their stock the clonal name ‘Darjeeling’.
var. mollicomata (W. W. Sm.) F. K. Ward M. moliicomata W. W. Sm.; M. c. subsp. mollicomata (W. W. Sm.) Johnstone – The magnolias known in gardens as M. mollicomata derive from seeds collected by Forrest in 1924 in the Chinese province of Yunnan near the Burma frontier (Shweli-Salween divide) under numbers F.24213, F.24214, and F.24118 (for F.26524 see below under ‘Lanarth’). Farrer had sent seeds a few years earlier from the Burma side of the frontier under his number 816, but these failed to germinate.
It is doubtful whether this magnolia is really distinct enough from M. campbellii to merit even the rank of subspecies given to it by G. H. Johnstone and it seems better to accord it the rank of variety given by Frank Kingdon Ward (Gard. Chron., Vol. 137 (1955), p. 238). But horticulturally the Forrest introduction differs in two respects from the forms of M. campbellii introduced from Sikkim. First, they take only half as long to reach the flowering stage (nine to twelve years from seed); secondly, the flower-colour is usually a mauvy-pink, and never the clear rose-pink of the best forms of M. campbellii from Sikkim.
As to the botanical differences between the two varieties, the trees cultivated as M. mollicomata are distinguished from cultivated specimens of M. campbellii by their downy peduncles, and this character is also mentioned in Sir William Wright Smith’s original description of M. mollicomata, which was drawn up from specimens collected by Forrest in various parts of Yunnan. But Mr. Johnstone did not consider this character to be of much diagnostic value, since specimens of M. campbellii with downy peduncles have been collected from as far west as Bhutan. Another difference, noted by Mr Johnstone, is that if the flower-buds of typical M. campbellii and var. mollicomata are compared around January, after the outer bud-scales have fallen, those of M. campbellii will be seen to be ovoid, those of the var. mollicomata oblong in the lower part and tapered at the apex, with a slight constriction between the two parts. But whether this difference holds good constantly for wild plants it is impossible to say.
At Caerhays, Cornwall, there are three specimens of var. mollicomata raised from the seeds sent by Forrest and planted about 1926. One of these, from F. 24214, measures 33 × 3 ft at 4 ft; the second is about the same size; the third is of fastigiate habit, dividing into several stems at 4 ft and about 40 ft high (1966). At Werrington, Cornwall, there is an example with almost white flowers, raised from F.24118; it is 45 × 4 ft with a bole of 9 ft (1966).
The following clones of var. mollicomata have been named:
cv. ‘Borde Hill’. – See under ‘Lanarth’.
cv. ‘Mary Williams’. – Flowers decribed as Roseine Purple shading to Orchid Purple. Raised at Caerhays, Cornwall, and given an Award of Merit when shown from there in 1954.
cv. ‘Lanarth’. – Flowers deep lilac-purple; leaves mostly rounded at the apex, glabrous beneath, with the veins deeply impressed on the upper surface. First Class Certificate when shown by the late M. P. Williams of Lanarth, Cornwall, in April 1947. The tree at Lanarth is one of only three raised from Forrest 25655, collected in 1924 on the Salween-Kiu-chiang divide. Another is at Werrington Park, Cornwall, where it is now about 50 ft high. The third, raised at Borde Hill, Sussex, died before flowering but a layer from it grows in Mrs Johnstone’s garden at Trewithen, Cornwall. This clone has been distributed under the name ‘Borde Hill’. These trees are discussed by G. H. Johnstone in op. cit., pp. 61-64, under the name convar. williamsiana; ‘Lanarth’ is figured there in colour on Plate 5.
M. campbellii var. campbellii × var. mollicomata. – This cross was made by the late C. P. Raffill of Kew in 1946, the parents being the specimens of the two varieties that once grew in the Temperate House there. Seedlings were distributed to a number of gardens in 1948-51 and first flowered ten to fourteen years later. Two clones have so far been named:
cv. ‘Charles Raffill’. – Tepals deep purple on the outside, white with pinkish-purple margins on the inner side. Award of Merit when shown by the Crown Estate Commissioners, Windsor Great Park, on April 18, 1963. This tree was received from Kew when 2 ft high in 1948-9 and flowered in 1959. It is figured in Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 88 (1963), figs. 173 and 174).
cv. ‘Kew’s Surprise’. – Flowers slightly deeper in colour than in ‘Charles Raffill’. First Class Certificate March 14, 1967, Planted at Caerhays in 1951, it first flowered in 1966 and is about 20 ft high (Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 93 (1968), p. 355).
Unnamed forms of the cross were shown by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, at the R.H.S. Show on April 2-3, 1968.
It is very likely that this cross has also occurred spontaneously in gardens.