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Tree to 15 m, 45 cm dbh. Bark greyish white. Branchlets purple-brown with round pale lenticels, glabrous. Leaves deciduous, mostly terminal on the shoots, thin and leathery, 14–20 × 3.5–7 cm, oblong-obovate to elliptic, dark green and glabrous above, pale below with white hairs when young, midrib conspicuous above, lateral veins inconspicuous, margins entire, apex obtuse or shortly acute, base cuneate; petiole slender, glabrous or sparsely hairy, with stipule scars one-quarter to half of the length of the petiole. Flowers terminal, yellowish white and fragrant; tepals 15(–16), very unequal, the outermost three c. × 7 2 cm, becoming shorter and narrower, until the inner three are almost linear; stamens numerous, with very short filaments; gynoecium sessile, elongate-ovoid. Fruits 4.7–7 × 4–5.5 cm, subglobose to ovoid, rufous at maturity with pale round lenticels, dehiscent along both sutures. Flowering May, fruiting September to October (China). Chen & Nooteboom 1993, Liu et al. 2004. Distribution CHINA: Jiangxi. Habitat Broadleaved forest between 450 and 650 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 8. Conservation status Endangered, with fewer than 500 individuals in only one known location. Illustration Liu et al. 2004.
Recognised only in 1995 (Cicuzza et al. 2007), and endangered in the wild, Magnolia decidua is unique in the otherwise entirely evergreen section Manglietia for the character that gives it its name. Specimens in cultivation also drop their foliage, but the brown leaves sometimes hang on the twigs for a while. Magnolia decidua is very rare in cultivation as well as in the wild, the only known specimens all being derived from seed obtained from China by Philippe de Spoelberch in 1999 and distributed by him. It is established at Arboretum Wespelaar, growing well below pines, and has reached 3 m although has yet to flower (P. de Spoelberch, pers. comm. 2007). At the Magnolian Grove Arboretum, Pickens, South Carolina it originally grew vigorously, but after planting out the saplings did not prosper and gradually died out for reasons that are not clear (R. Figlar, pers. comm. 2008).