An evergreen tree 60 to 80 ft high, of dense pyramidal form, but as usually seen with us less than half as high and more rounded. Leaves oval to oblong-obovate, from 6 to 10 in. long, less than half as wide; tapered to both ends, leathery in texture, glossy dark green above, covered beneath, especially when young, with a thick red-brown felt; stalk 1 to 2 in. long. Flowers among the finest in the genus, globular, 8 to 10 in. across, very fragrant with a spicy or fruity odour, produced continuously during the late summer and autumn. Petals thick and concave, creamy white, broadly obovate. and 4 or 5 in. long. Bot. Mag., t. 1952.
Introduced from the southern United States to England early in the 18th century, this still remains the finest flowered of evergreen trees; and until the advent of the Chinese M. delavayi it was the only really evergreen hardy magnolia. It never suffers from cold at Kew, but open-ground trees grow slowly, especially in height, and are very different from the magnificent pyramids one sees along the Riviera and in Italy. It is apt to have its branches broken during heavy falls of snow, for which reason it is sometimes wise to brace the main branches together by stout wires. In cold localities it makes an admirable wall tree.
The tree ripens seeds freely in the south of Europe and many forms have been raised and named there. But few of these are distinctive enough to be worth mentioning. It is often claimed that this or that variety flowers at an early age, but it would perhaps be nearer the truth to say that a plant of any variety will produce flowers when quite small provided it was raised from layers or cuttings, whereas seedlings may not bloom until twenty or even more years old.
cv. ‘Angustifolia’. – Leaves narrow, tapered at both ends; margins wavy. Introduced from France in 1825.
cv. ‘Exmouth’ (‘Exoniensis’, ‘Lanceolata’). – Leaves rather narrower than in the type, lanceolate or oval, slightly rusty coloured beneath; of a rather erect or fastigiate habit. Bot. Mag., t. 1952.
The original tree grew in the garden of Sir John Colliton at Exmouth and in Miller’s time (Gard. Diet., 1768) was one of the few sizeable specimens in the country, most of the young plants from the first introduction having been killed in the great frosts of 1739-40. Attempts to reintroduce the species had not been successful, with the result that demand greatly exceeded supply. This may explain how the Exmouth tree came to be rented out to nurserymen, who sold the layers at a price of five guineas each, later falling to half a guinea (Loudon, Arb. et Frut. Brit., Vol. 1, p. 263). The tree was cut down by accident in 1794.
cv. ‘Ferruginea’. – This form was in commerce in 1804 and according to contemporary descriptions it had broader and blunter leaves than ‘Exmouth’, densely rusty beneath, and of bushier habit. The plants now in commerce under this name may be a different though similar clone.
cv. ‘Gloriosa’. – A broad-leaved form which bears flowers of great size and substance – one of the finest.
cv. ‘Goliath’. – Leaves oval, rounded and often abruptly acuminate at the apex, up to 8 in. long, glabrous beneath except for a trace of rust along the midrib. Flowers nearly a foot across when fully expanded. This is now considered to be the finest variety. Award of Merit 1931, First Class Certificate 1951. The origin of this magnolia is uncertain. According to Millais it was first sent out by the Caledonia nursery, Guernsey.