A rather low, rounded deciduous tree, much branched, rarely more than 30, but sometimes 45 ft high. Leaves 3 to 6 in. long, 2 to 31⁄2 in. wide; oval to obovate, the apex contracting abruptly to a point, downy beneath. Flower-buds conspicuous all the winter by reason of their large scales being covered with grey, shaggy hairs. Flowers pure white, opening from March to May according to the season; petals 3 in. long, at first erect, afterwards spreading, thick, about nine in number. Fruits spindle-shaped, 5 in. long. Bot. Mag., t. 1621.
Native of China; introduced in 1789. One of the most beautiful and distinctive of all flowering trees, this magnolia is, unfortunately, an occasional victim to the inclemency of an English spring. Its flowers respond quickly to premature warmth in late February or March, only too often to be trapped by succeeding frost. A cold February and March suits it best. It never fails to set an abundance of blossom, and the white flowers gleaming in the sunshine of an early spring day render it the most conspicuous of all trees at that season. It was for long an uncommon tree, the most famous specimens being at Kew, Syon, and Gunnersbury House. It became commoner when Dutch nurseries began to propagate it by grafting on M. × soulangiana. By the Chinese the yulan has been cultivated for at least thirteen hundred years, and was once commonly planted there near temples and in the Imperial gardens.
M. denudata varies in the shape of its flowers. An Award of Merit was given in 1926 to the form distributed by Messrs R. Veitch of Exeter, known in gardens as Veitch’s ‘Best Yulan’. In this the tepals are broadly obovate, rounded and abruptly acuminate at the apex, in contrast to other forms in which the tepals are more oblong and tapered at the apex. G. H. Johnstone pointed out that the Veitch form agrees very well with the plate in Bot. Mag., t. 1621 (1814), which almost certainly represents the original introduction of 1789.
Perhaps the oldest example of M. denudata in Britain grows in the Goldsworth Nurseries near Woking, Surrey. It was planted in 1815.
var. purpurascens (Maxim.) Rehd. & Wils., in part. M. conspicua var. purpurascens Maxim. – Tepals rosy-purple on the outside. This variety was described from plants cultivated in Japan but also occurs in China in the wild. It should not be confused with M. sprengeri, the pink-flowered forms of which were originally identified as M. denudata. var. purpurascens by Rehder and Wilson.