A deciduous bush of rather straggling growth, rarely more than 12 ft high in the open (although twice as high on walls); young wood aromatic. Leaves ovate, oblong, or obovate, 3 to 8 in. long, 2 to 5 in. wide, tapering rather abruptly to a point, dark green above, downy beneath. Flowers opening from April to June; petals 3 in. long 13⁄4 in. wide, erect, obovate, vinous purple and white outside, white within. Bot. Mag., t. 390.
Introduced from Japan in 1790, this handsome shrub is now considered to be a native of China, and as existing in Japan as a cultivated plant only. It varies to a considerable extent in the colour of the flowers when raised from seed, but is always purple or a combination of purple and white outside, and white within. The plant figured in Bot. Mag., t. 390 (1797) (as M. purpurea) apparently had the tepals wholly purple on the outside but more deeply so at the base. The colouring may have been exaggerated, since according to Loudon the flowers of the 1790 introduction were never wholly purple on the outside but ‘melt off into white at the upper extremities’ (Arb. et Frut. Brit., Vol. 1, pp. 282-283.
M. liliiflora is quite hardy near London; it usually requires wall protection in the north. The later flowers are accompanied by full-sized leaves.
cv. ‘Gracilis’. – Of narrower, more fastigiate habit than the original introduction, with more slender branches. Leaves narrower, paler green. Flowers with narrower petals, reflexed at the apex, wholly deep purple on the outside. Introduced from Japan in 1804 (M. gracilis Salisb.; M. liliiflora var. gracilis (Salisb.) Rehd.).
cv. ‘Nigra’. – Flowers larger, with petals 4 or 5 in. long, very dark purple outside, borne mainly in May and early June. It makes a less straggly bush than ordinary M. liliiflora. It was introduced by J. G. Veitch from Japan in 1861. Nicholson, considering it to be a hybrid between M. liliiflora and M. denudata, described it as M. soulangiana nigra in 1884. It may be that some plants sent out at one time by continental nurserymen under this name were indeed forms of M. × soulangiana, but the Veitchian introduction agrees better with M. liliiflora.