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Magnolia sargentiana Rehd. & Wils.

Modern name

Magnolia sargentiana Rehder & E.H.Wilson

A deciduous tree not uncommonly attaining a height of 50 to 70 ft in the wild and a girth of 7 to 9 ft (one exceptional specimen seen by Wilson was 80 ft with a trunk 10 ft in girth at 6 ft above the ground); branchlets glabrous, greenish yellow at first, becoming grey or greyish brown. Leaves obovate or less commonly oblong-obovate, 4 to 7 in. long, 214 to 4 in. wide, notched, rounded or acuminate at the apex, obliquely wedge-shaped at the base, dark glossy green and glabrous above, undersides paler and usually densely covered with long greyish hairs except on the more or less glabrous midrib; leaf-stalks slender, glabrous. Flower-buds ovoid, acute, covered with greyish hairs; flower-stalks downy. Flowers about 8 in. across, borne before the leaves in March-April. Tepals ten to thirteen, oblong-obovate or oblong-lanceolate, purplish pink on the outside, paler or white within; in a specimen collected in the wild on Mt Omei in 1939 the tepals were 234 to 4316 in. long, 1316 to 158 in. wide, and are of about the same dimensions in cultivated plants. Fruit-cones cylindrical, 4 to 5 in. long, often twisted owing to the uneven development of the carpels. Seeds usually one in each carpel, orange-scarlet.

A native of W. Szechwan (Wa-shan and Mt Omei) and of N. Yunnan; introduced by Wilson in 1908 during his expedition for the Arnold Arboretum and described from fruiting specimens collected at the same time. Wilson never saw this species in bloom, but a flowering specimen was collected by C. L. Sun in 1939 on Mt Omei, about thirty miles east of the type-locality (Pl. Omeienses Vol. 1, p. 1944 and Plate 8).

M. sargentiana first flowered at Nymans, Sussex, in April 1932 and received an F.C.C. when shown from there in 1935. When sending material from this tree to Kew in 1943, James Comber, the garden manager, wrote that it was ‘a seedling raised by J. Nix esq. from Wilson’s seed, and given to me when visiting Tilgate’. This tree, which still grows in the Walled Garden, must be one of the few in this country raised direct from the wild seed. Most of the older trees, both of the type and the var. robusta, came from Chenault of Orleans, who received seedlings from the Arnold Arboretum which he multiplied by grafting.

In cultivation M. sargentiana makes a tree which has already (at Caerhays) attained the average height of wild trees, but not yet their girth. Its flowers resembled those of M. dawsoniana, and are no less beautiful, but that species can always be distinguished by its shrubby habit and deeper green, veiny leaves. M. sargentiana in its typical state is not so widely planted as the var. robusta described below, partly because it does not seed freely and partly perhaps because it takes longer than the var. robusta to reach the flowering state. A tree at Caerhays, Cornwall,pl. 1921, measures 50 × 334 ft, with a bole of 11 ft; another, six years younger, is 38 × 3 ft (1966).

var. robusta Rehd. & Wils. – This variety was described from fruiting specimens collected by Wilson in the area from which came the type-specimens of M. sargentiana; seeds were also taken and distributed under field number W.923a. According to the original description it differs in its longer and narrower leaves, which in Wilson’s specimens are 512 to 812 in. long, 212 to 312 in. wide, with larger fruits (434 to 714 in. long). The grafted plants sent out by Chenault as var. robusta agree very well with this description in their elongated leaves and in bearing fruit-cones 7 to 8 in. long. They are also distinct in other respects. They make spreading bushy trees, usually dividing into three or more stems at 3 or 4 ft above the ground; in mature specimens the leaves are mostly broadly notched at the apex; and the flowers are strikingly different from those of typical M. sargentiana, being up to 12 in. across, with more numerous and much larger tepals (ten to sixteen, 8 in. long, 3 in. wide). If more herbarium material were available – it is very scanty and incomplete – it might prove that the var. robusta is linked by intermediates to the typical state of the species. But cultivated plants raised from the original wild seeds are certainly very distinct. Of the two, the var. robusta is much to be preferred, the flowers being of a clearer pink and better displayed.

M. sargentiana var. robusta first flowered in Britain at Caerhays, Cornwall, in April 1931. A flower sent by J. C. Williams to Kew on April 14 of that year is still preserved in the Herbarium and has with it a description drawn up by Dr Stapf while the flower was still fresh. Photographs of the Caerhays plant, taken on the same occasion, are reproduced in New Flora and Sylva, Vol. 5, figs, iv and v. In France, the var. robusta had flowered earlier, by 1923.

M. (sargentiana var. robusta × sprengeri var. diva) ‘Caerhays Belle’. – A hybrid of great promise, raised at Caerhays, Cornwall. See Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 91, p. 285 and fig. 151.

From the Supplement (Vol. V)

specimens: Caerhays, Cornwall, pl. 1921, 50 × 414 ft and 60 × 434 ft (1975); and of var. robusta: Borde Hill, Sussex, 66 × 434 ft (1983); Caerhays, Cornwall, 60 × 514 ft (1975); Trewidden, Cornwall, pl. 1942, 52 × 512 ft (1979); Chyverton, Cornwall, pl. 1944, 44 × 314 ft (1977).

M. sargentiana × M. campbellii. – The cross between the first-named and M. campbellii var. mollicomata was made at Caerhays and the seedlings distributed by Messrs Treseder. One of these, planted at Chyverton, has been named ‘Treve Holman’ (Nigel Holman, ‘Asiatic Magnolias in a Cornish Garden’, Rhododendrons 1975, pp. 74-5). The plant was received as ‘M. × soulangeana × C. mollicomata’, owing to a labelling error (Treseder, Magnolias, p. 182).

For ‘Michael Rosse’, which may have M. sargentiana or M. s. var. robusta as the pollen-parent, see above, under M. campbellii f. alba.



Other species in the genus