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Tree to 20 m. Branchlets yellow or black-brown, glabrous or tomentose. Leaves evergreen, thin, leathery, 11.5–14(–18) × 4–6 cm, obovate to elliptic, upper surface dark green and glossy with pubescence particularly on the midrib, lower surface glaucous with dense, minute yellowish brown hairs, 8–13 secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins entire, apex short-acuminate; petiole 1.2–1.5 cm long and pubescent; stipules adnate to base of petiole, densely pubescent. Flowers on axillary shoots, yellowish white, fragrant, brachyblast 0.7–1 cm long with three (to four) bracts; tepals 9–12, 4–5 × 1–2.5 cm, obovate to spathulate; stamens green to yellow; gynoecium stipitate with many brown- or silver-tomentose carpels. Fruits 13.5–15.5 cm long, cylindrical; ripe carpels subglobose, purplish brown, 1–2 cm long with a hooked beak and lenticels. Flowering March to May, fruiting August to September (China). Chen & Nooteboom 1993, Liu et al. 2004. Distribution CHINA: Guizhou, Sichuan, Yunnan. Habitat Forests and temple gardens between 600 and 2000 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 7a. Conservation status Near Threatened, with ongoing losses due to habitat destruction. Illustration Liu et al. 2004; NT487. Taxonomic note The epithet ernestii was given to commemorate Ernest Wilson, whose Magnolia takes precedence over his Michelia when the genera are combined.
Piroche Plants of British Columbia offered Magnolia ernestii (as Michelia wilsonii) and several other species in 1993, in one of the earliest ‘modern’ introductions of Asian evergreen magnolias. This material was rapidly passed around among enthusiasts, and in 1995 Sean Hogan gave a plant to the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden. This is now an extraordinary 16 m tall, forming a handsome big evergreen. In a good (i.e. wet) season it grows at over 60 cm per year. The top of this specimen was broken by snow in November 2006, but it was unaffected by the –9°C experienced at the same time. The only problem with having it as such a large tree is that the flowers are almost invisible up in the crown, but they are so fragrant that their scent perfumes the air around (Wharton 2007). In Portland Sean Hogan and the late Parker Sanderson have used it as a street tree with great success, complementing older plantings nearby of Magnolia virginiana (var. australis). It is doing well in the few gardens where it has been planted in the United Kingdom, including a tree at Tregrehan that had reached about 8 m in 2007 (T. Hudson, pers. comm. 2007), but like many michelias it does appreciate a warm summer to perform at its best. It typically defoliates at about –6 °C, with the lamina detaching from the petiole, although the tree itself will tolerate lower temperatures, surviving equably to –12 °C and sometimes less (Hogan 2008).