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Magnolia macrophylla Michx.

Modern name

Magnolia macrophylla Michx.

A deciduous tree 20 to 50 ft high, with an open, spreading head of branches, and a trunk 1 to 112 ft in diameter. Leaves the largest of all magnolias, measuring 15 to 25 in., sometimes 3 ft in length, and from 7 to 12 in. wide, oblong-obovate, widest above the middle, bluntish at the apex, broadly heart-shaped or auriculate at the base, bright green and glabrous above, silvery grey and downy beneath. Flowers on leafy shoots 8 to 10, sometimes 14 in. across, fragrant; petals six, dull creamy white, fleshy, 5 to 7 in. long, half as wide. Fruits roundish, egg-shaped, rose-coloured, 3 in. long. Bot. Mag., t. 2189.

Native of the south-eastern United States, where it is rare, and only occurs in small isolated stations. It was discovered by the elder Michaux in 1759 in the mountains of S. Carolina; introduced to Europe in 1800. In foliage this is the most remarkable of magnolias; and is indeed one of the most interesting of the world’s trees; but it is, unfortunately, spring tender in a young state. That it will withstand severer frosts than any we experience is shown by two healthy trees growing in front of the museum of the Arnold Arboretum, Boston, USA. The most famous specimen in England was at Claremont, near Esher, a healthy tree which, in 1912, was 40 ft high, its trunk 3 ft in girth. This no longer exists.

The largest specimens recorded recently are: Savill Gardens, Windsor Great Park, 30 × 112 ft, (1967); Exbury, Hants, 30 × 214 ft (1968); Bodnant, Denbigh, 20 × 2 ft (1966). There are also examples about 25 ft high at Tittenhurst Park, Berks, and Nymans, Sussex.

M. ashei Weatherby – This species, which is very closely allied to M. macrophylla, was described in 1928 from specimens collected by Ashe in western Florida, where it is reported to make a tree up to 25 ft high, growing in deep sandy soil near streams (M. macrophylla occurs in the same area, but in drier situations). The differences between the two species are, according to Weatherby, not very clear cut, the most reliable ones being that in M. macrophylla the carpels have a fleshy appendage along the line of suture and the fruit-cones are ovoid to subglobose, while in M. ashei the appendages are thin and the fruit-cones ovoid-cylindric. Less constant differences are that in M. ashei the hairs on the midrib beneath are sparser and less spreading than in M. macrophylla and the flowers on the average smaller (8 to 12 in. across) with more or less acute petals.

M. ashei was introduced to Britain in 1949 and survives in a few gardens. Its chief claim to attention is that it flowers when 3 ft or even less high (see Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 78 (1953), pp. 288-289 and fig. 90). It is much more tender than M. macrophylla.

From the Supplement (Vol. V)

specimens: Savill Garden, Windsor Great Park, 40 × 214 ft (1984); Nymans, Sussex, 30 × 2 ft (1977); Sheffield Park, Sussex, 36 × 134 ft (1984); Killerton, Devon, 59 × 314 ft (1983); Holker Park, Cumb., 30 × 214 ft (1983); Bodnant, Gwyn., 30 × 212 ft (1974).

{M. ashei}. – This now ranks as a subspecies of M. macrophylla – subsp. ashei (Weatherby) Spongberg.

† M. dealbata Zucc. – A rare native of Mexico, in the cloud-forests of Oaxaca and Veracruz, north to Hidalgo, very closely allied to M. macrophylla. Plants of this species have been raised by James Russell at Castle Howard, Yorkshire, from seed which he collected in Veracruz in 1983. He first saw it growing in the Jalapa area near the village of Coyopola around 4,800 ft altitude, in the company of oaks, liquidambar and Clethra xalapensis, and collected six seeds. He later saw about 100 trees, only four of them fruiting, of upright, almost fastigiate habit, to about 60 ft high; leaves 12-15 in. long, 7-8 in. wide, deciduous, fresh green above, silvery green beneath (field-notes, under JR 413).



Other species in the genus