(Species: Magnolia - Family: Magnoliaceae)


Magnolia and its origins

Magnolias are a group of flowering trees and shrubs that, when in bloom, are considered to be one of the most beautiful of all plants.


The distribution of magnolia species is far and wide, encompassing two main areas: north America, central America and the West Indies; east and south-east Asia. There are also some species in South America.


In 1703, the French botanist Charles Plumier gave the name Magnolia to a flowering tree growing wild on the island of Martinique. He named it in honour of another French botanist of the time, Pierre Magnol. In the 19th century the celebrated British plant hunter Ernest Wilson introduced eight Chinese species to Europe.


Seasonality: Magnolia in flower

Magnolias vary from tall trees to medium-sized shrubs and can be deciduous or evergreen. The group that lose their leaves, flower in spring on bare branches before the leaves reappear. The evergreens bloom in summer and in early autumn.


The blooms on all types of magnolia are exceptionally beautiful, and vary in shape from the star-shaped, fluttery white scented flowers on Magnolia stellata, an ideal variety for small gardens, reaching only 150cm, to the tulip magnolia, M x soulangeana, with pale to deep rose goblet-shaped blooms that in improved form Lennei, a multi-stemmed tree that will reach 8m in maturity, are nearly 20cm across.


As well as the more familiar white, rose and deep pink blooms, there are also shades of yellow, as in M denudata yellow River, a dome-shaped small tree with creamy-yellow, goblet flowers that suits a small, sheltered garden. 


Although magnolias have a reputation for not flowering in their early years, hybrids have been successfully bred to give earlier-blooming plants coupled with bigger and better flowers. Thus Magnolia grandiflora, the spectacular evergreen magnolia, will not produce its celebrated huge, creamy-white blooms in late summer until it is at least 20 years old, but varieties Goliath and Exmouth will produce flowers within ten years - and they are well worth waiting for. 


How to plant: Magnolia

Magnolias are not easy plants to grow but they are worth the extra effort needed. They prefer fertile, well-drained soil that is slightly acidic, though some varieties such as M soulangeana are fairly lime tolerant.


They should ideally be located in a site that is either sunny or in light shade. The plants themselves are hardy but it is important to avoid planting them in a frost pocket or an exposed, windy site, because the buds will be damaged. Plant away from other plants so that the full beauty of the shrub or tree can be seen. Against or near a wall is ideal, as it affords a little shelter.


The time to plant a magnolia is in spring. Avoid planting too deeply because magnolias are surface-rooting, and work plenty of organic matter into the planting hole.


Water copiously until established, especially if there is a drought. Mulch every spring with well-rotted manure and ideally, some leafmould to add to the acidity of the soil's pH. Don't plant near the plants or beneath them, as they dislike root disturbance.


Magnolias require minimal pruning. Simply remove unwanted branches and any dead wood after flowering. 


Propagation of Magnolias

Magnolia plants can be grown from seed but take years to reach a practical size, and cuttings are not easy. The best option is to layer shoots in summer, by taking a branch of the magnolia that can be bent down to the ground, and pegging it securely in order for it to form roots. When new shoots appear, the plant can be severed and replanted.


Did you know?

Magnolias evolved before bees existed, so the flowers developed to encourage pollination by beetles. Plants from the magnoliaceae family have been found dating back 95 million years.