Just beginning to open outside our nursery office is the lovely Magnolia platypetala. Our specimen of this amazing Chinese native is now 24 years old. The fuzzy brown buds, which are beautiful in their own right, open to large, fragrant white flowers. When night temperatures drop below freezing, the petals melt, but are replaced the next day by more opening flowers.
Taxonomically, it’s often listed as a subspecies of Magnolia maudiae as well as Magnolia macclurei, but we’re sticking to it being its own species, since we grow both other species nearby.
Back in 2018, I spotted a listing for Korean germplasm of Magnolia sieboldii on the seed exchange list for the International Magnolia Society. For those who don’t know magnolia species, Magnolia sieboldii is considered one of the most beautiful in the genus, but it’s widely known not to grow in hot, humid climates. I had actually seen this pendant-flowering species on Korea’s Mt. Sorak in 1997, but didn’t gather seed because I assumed it ungrowable. Subsequent to that trip, we would try in our garden, but we stopped after killing it on our requisite three attempts. Good sense would tell us to stop trying, but that’s not something we seem gifted with.
As with all plant breeding and selection, it’s a numbers game. If the desirable trait exists in the species, you’ll eventually find it, if you grow enough seedlings. Since there were plenty of seed available from the exchange, I reasoned that if we grew enough, perhaps one would show some heat tolerance.
I don’t remember exactly how many pounds of seed arrived, but they were promptly sown, and germination soon followed. Each time the seedlings were transplanted, only the most vigorous ones were selected. These were then grown in our research cold frame for the next year, subjected to full sun and through a typical NC summer. By the following spring, we had whittled down our selections to nine clones that had thrived in containers, and in early spring 2019, they were planted in the ground. Over the ensuing years, four passed away, leaving five. This spring, four years after planting, two clones have topped 7′ in height and are flowering beautifully, as you can see below.
There are less than 20 named selections of Magnolia sieboldii, most selected either for double flowers or blush pink tips, but none for heat/humidity tolerance. The next step will be to make a final selection which we’ll name Magnolia sieboldii ‘Southern Pearls’. Scion wood will then be shared with Magnolia grafters who will assist with our mission to propagate and share. Winter hardiness of this clone should be at least Zone 5b – 7b.
One of the nice surprises this winter has been the performance of our hybrid Magnolia grandiflora x Magnolia coco. This 2019 seedling came through the recent 11 degrees F looking great, despite half its parentage being rather tender.
While Magnolia grandiflora is certainly winter hardy here, the other parent, Magnolia coco is “reportedly” not hardy. Magnolia coco is a small tree/shrub hailing from Vietnam, Southern China, and Taiwan. Those reputable on-line sources consistently write that it isn’t hardy north of Zone 9. Well–hmmm!
The bottom image is our plant that has been in the garden since 2003…that’s 20 years. Yes, after 11F, the foliage is brown, but the stems are fine and it will re-flush well in spring. We can’t wait to see the flowers on the hybrid, which is still a few years away from being old enough to have sex.
Magnolia ‘Forest’s Pink’ put on a splendid show this year in early to mid-March. Sold as a cultivar of the Chinese Magnolia denudata, some magnolia experts insist that it’s actually a hybrid, due to the intensity of the pink color as well as the form of the plant.
Magnolia ‘Forest’s Pink’ originated as an introduction from Treseder’s Nursery in Cornwall, England, who propagated and named it from an original introduction from China by Scottish botanist, George Forrest (1873 – 1932), that was growing at England’s Caerhays Castle.
Magnolia denudata, a typically white-flowered species, native to Central China, has been cultivated around Buddhist monasteries since 618 AD…in other words, nearly 1,500 years. Another long-cultivated Chinese native magnolia with pink flowers and an overlapping native range is Magnolia liliiflora. The commonly known hybrids of the two species are known as the Magnolia x soulangeana hybrids. Since plant explorer George Forest was known to collect both in the wild as well in cultivated areas, it is quite probably that the magnolia that bears his name is not pure Magnolia denudata, but actually a Magnolia x soulangeana hybrid. Looks like someone will need to do some DNA work to sort out this nomenclatural tussle.
Whatever you want to call it, our 25 year-old specimen of Magnolia ‘Forest’s Pink’ was rather stunning this March. Thankfully, the flowering was mostly complete before our mid-March freeze of 23 degrees F.
This winter has been an amazing one at JLBG for the mid-winter flowering, evergreen magnolias. Formerly known as Michelia, there are several species from warm temperature Asian climates, which flower in the mid-winter. The plant in the top photo is our oldest specimen of Magnolia platypetala, and below is Magnolia macclurei…both planted in 1999, and in full flower in January. Obviously, we will loose open flowers if winter night temperatures drop too far below freezing, but the remainder of the flower buds usually open shortly after temperatures warm.
Also, the bright gold shrub in the first image is the original plant of our introduction, Illicium parviflorum ‘Florida Sunshine’…the plant from which all plants in the world were propagated. To the lower right is the Mediterranean native, Phlomis fruticosa ‘Miss Grace’. All in all, a lovely winter garden combination.
Magnolia officinalis var. biloba ‘Fireworks’ is stunning in the garden, from its dark purple buds to the vivid pink flowers. Typical Magnolia officinalis var. biloba has white flowers, so this amazing plant is most unusual.
Sometimes we’re all in need of inspiration, and this spring, ours came from its namesake, Magnolia ‘Inspiration’. This stunning evergreen hybrid between Magnolia doltsopa and Magnolia laevifolia was developed by our old hosta friend, Barry Sligh of New Zealand, who sadly passed away in 2019. Our amazing seven-year old specimen is now 10′ tall x 10′ wide and as you can see if absolutely loaded with deliciously fragrant flowers. Pat McCracken of Garden Treasures Nursery tells me that he produced it for a while, but stopped because it grew too fast in containers. I agree with his assessment that it is the proverbial ugly duckling when young, but it sure makes a heckuva swan when it ages.
Flowering this week is our selection of Magnolia floribunda ‘Bridal Bouquet’. When we visited Yunnan, China in 1996, we were able to return with three seed of Magnolia floribunda, a species which seemed completely absent from American horticulture. The resulting seedlings were planted into the garden, where two promptly died during the first winter. Thankfully, one survived and is still thriving today 25 years later.
Magnolia floribunda ‘Bridal Bouquet’ forms an upright, somewhat open evergreen that sometimes starts flowering as early as mid-January. This year, thanks to our consistent cold, it waited until early March to start its floral show. The flowers have a distinctive and fascinating fragrance that we find unique among our magnolia collection. We have shared cuttings with several woody plant nurseries and donated plants to a few rare plant auctions in the hopes of getting this more widely cultivated.
Here are photos of our lovely specimen of Magnolia (Parakmeria) lotungensis that flowered extremely well this year. This evergreen magnolia is one of our favorites and has never shown a sign of winter damage here. Fingers crossed for good seed set.