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An evergreen tree 60 to 80 ft high, of dense pyramidal form, but as usually seen with us less than half as high and more rounded. Leaves oval to oblong-obovate, from 6 to 10 in. long, less than half as wide; tapered to both ends, leathery in texture, glossy dark green above, covered beneath, especially when young, with a thick red-brown felt; stalk 1 to 2 in. long. Flowers among the finest in the genus, globular, 8 to 10 in. across, very fragrant with a spicy or fruity odour, produced continuously during the late summer and autumn. Petals thick and concave, creamy white, broadly obovate. and 4 or 5 in. long. Bot. Mag., t. 1952.
Introduced from the southern United States to England early in the 18th century, this still remains the finest flowered of evergreen trees; and until the advent of the Chinese M. delavayi it was the only really evergreen hardy magnolia. It never suffers from cold at Kew, but open-ground trees grow slowly, especially in height, and are very different from the magnificent pyramids one sees along the Riviera and in Italy. It is apt to have its branches broken during heavy falls of snow, for which reason it is sometimes wise to brace the main branches together by stout wires. In cold localities it makes an admirable wall tree.
The tree ripens seeds freely in the south of Europe and many forms have been raised and named there. But few of these are distinctive enough to be worth mentioning. It is often claimed that this or that variety flowers at an early age, but it would perhaps be nearer the truth to say that a plant of any variety will produce flowers when quite small provided it was raised from layers or cuttings, whereas seedlings may not bloom until twenty or even more years old.
cv. ‘Exmouth’. – See below for the possible hybridity of this cultivar.
cv. ‘Goliath’. – As added in reprints of Volume II ‘Goliath’ was indeed put into commerce by the Caledonia nursery of C. Smith and Son, Guernsey. In confirming this, Mr John de Putron stated that it was almost certainly selected by his great-grandfather in one of the Angers nurseries.
† M. grandiflora × M. virginiana. – This cross was made in 1930 and 1931 in the US National Arboretum, Washington, DC., M. virginiana being the seed-parent. Two clones were released after the second world war – ‘Maryland’ (1959) and ‘Freeman’ (1962). They take after the pollen-parent M. grandiflora which, as a hexaploid, contributes more genes to the hybrids than the diploid M. virginiana. Their season of flower in the USA is May-June. They are said to flower when young, but this is also true of vegetatively propagated plants of M. grandiflora.
Professor McDaniel has suggested that some crossing between the two species may have take place in the wild where M. grandiflora meets M. virginiana var. australis (Newsletter Amer. Mag. Soc., Vol. 7(2), pp. 4-7 (1970)); and further that ‘Exmouth’, classed as a cultivar of M. grandiflora, may have in it some genes from M. virginiana, which would explain its having more pointed leaves than that species, and also that in the USA it is hardy in areas where M. grandiflora is tender (lecture, autumn 1969, summarised in Deutsche Baumschule, Feb. 1970, pp. 56-7).
M. grandiflora is the type of the New World section Theorhodon, most of whose species are tropical, from Mexico and some islands of the Caribbean south to Venezuela. The northernmost of these is M. schiedeana Schlecht., which is near to M. grandiflora but with smaller flowers. It was described in 1864 from a specimen collected near Jalapa in Veracruz state and ranges westward to the Pacific. It was introduced to Britain in 1984 by James Russell from the Rancho el Martinique reserve, Baudarilla, near Jalapa, but is unlikely to succeed in Britain outside the mildest areas.