A deciduous tree or shrub up to 20 ft high; young shoots clothed at first with pale brown silky hairs; becoming glabrous and greyish the second year. Leaves oval, oval-oblong and obovate to roundish; rounded or abruptly pointed at the apex, wedge-shaped or rounded at the base, 3 to 7 in. long, 2 to 51⁄2 in. wide, glabrous and bright green above, slightly glaucous and at first very velvety beneath; stalk 3⁄4 to 21⁄2 in. long and, like the midrib, densely silky-hairy. Flowers saucer-shaped, white, fragrant, 4 to 5 in. wide, produced at the end of young leafy shoots on a stalk 1 to 2 in. long in June; tepals usually nine, oblong-obovate, 1 to 2 in. wide. Stamens numerous, 2⁄5 in. long, rosy-crimson. Fruits pendulous, cylindrical, 3 in. long, 11⁄2 in. wide, pink; seeds at first pink, ultimately scarlet.
Native of W. Szechwan, China; discovered and introduced to the Arnold Arboretum in 1908 by Wilson. It was found by him at altitudes of 7,500 to 9,000 ft and is perfectly hardy. Introduced to England through Messrs Chenault’s nursery at Orleans in 1920 and distributed under the name “M. nicholsoniana”. The magnolia to which that name was originally given is now regarded as a form of M. wilsonii (q.v.).
M. sinensis is a beautiful magnolia which thrives on chalky soils and is quite hardy (the original grafted plants imported from Chenault’s nurseries had the reputation of being difficult and somewhat tender, but this is perhaps accounted for by the use of an unsuitable stock.) Its spreading habit makes it less suitable for small gardens than M. wilsonii.
M. × highdownensis Dandy – A probable hybrid between M. sinensis and M. wilsonii. Young wood darker than in the former but lacking the purple tinge characteristic of the ripe stems of M. wilsonii. Leaves up to 73⁄4 in. long, 4 in. wide, elliptic or oblong-elliptic, acute or acuminate at the apex, rounded or cuneate at the base (thus they are very distinct from the leaves of M. sinensis and more like those of M. wilsonii, though somewhat larger and the leaves on the extension growths more perfectly elliptic); they are covered fairly densely beneath with white hairs. Flowers as large as those of M. sinensis.
The original plants of M. highdownensis were received by the late Sir Frederick Stern in 1927 from J. C. Williams of Caerhays. They were seedlings from a pan whose label had been mislaid, so the seed-parent of the Highdown plants is unknown.
The first description of these hybrids was given by Sir F. Stern in a note in New Flora and Sylva, Vol. 10, pp. 105-107, headed ‘M. sinensis × wilsonii’. The name M. × highdownensis was published by J. E. Dandy in Journ. R.H.S.,Vol. 75, pp. 159-161. Mr Dandy, who is the leading authority on the genus Magnolia, gave the following reasons for his belief that the Highdown magnolia is M. sinensis × wilsonii. First, it is intermediate between the two species. Secondly, the seeds came from a garden (Caerhays) in which both species had flowered. Thirdly, it is not matched by any specimens collected in the wild.