A spreading, flat-topped, evergreen tree up to 30 ft high. Leaves 8 to 14 in. long, 5 to 8 in. wide, greyish dull green above, glaucous and with fine down beneath, the midrib prolonged beyond the blade into a short tip; the stalk one-fourth the length of the blade, stout. The flowers are 7 to 8 in. across, cup-shaped and fragrant; the petals about 4 in. long, half as wide, dull, creamy white. The cone-like fruit is 6 in. long. Bot. Mag., t. 8282.
Native of Yunnan, China; discovered by Père Delavay in 1886 near Lankong; introduced by Wilson from southern Yunnan in 1899. It first flowered at Kew, under glass, in 1908. Judging from Wilson’s field notes, and those of other collectors, M. delavayi is found in open places, or in scrub dominated by species of Lithocarpus, on both sandstone and limestone formations, at 4,000 to 8,000 ft. Evergreen woody plants of the Sino-Himalayan region rarely prove hardy if introduced from altitudes much below 10,000 ft, so it is surprising that M. delavayi should thrive so well in the open air in this country, especially as the region where Wilson collected the seeds lies not far north of the tropics.
In the milder parts of the British Isles M. delavayi thrives better than the American M. grandiflora as a free-standing specimen. The flowers are smaller and more fleeting than they are in that species but ‘As one sees it in Cornwall, it is, I think, the finest of all evergreen flowering trees’ (W. J. Bean, in New Flora and Sylva, Vol. 5, p. 13). Near London it is fairly hardy on a wall protected from the north and east but will be cut in severe winters once it reaches above the coping, unless there is further protection from neighbouring trees or buildings. Unlike M. grandiflora it is quite happy on chalky soils.
There are three splendid examples of this species at Caerhays in Cornwall, 40 to 50 ft in height and another of the same size at Lanarth. Nearer London the following wall-specimens are recorded: Highdown, Sussex, on the south wall of the gardener’s cottage, pl. 1912, 36 × 2 ft (1966); Borde Hill, Sussex, on east side of kitchen garden wall, sheltered on the east by trees, pl. 1911 25 × 41⁄4 ft (1968); Pylewell Park, Hants, 25 × 43⁄4 ft (1966). There are small but healthy specimens in the R.H.S. Garden at Wisley, on the wall of the Laboratory; and at Kew, on the wall of the Herbaceous Ground.