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Tree to 20 m, 0.6 m dbh. Bark dark grey with prominent lenticels. Branchlets densely covered with long, curly, dark brown or rufous hairs. Leaves evergreen, leathery, 11–19 × 5–7 cm, obovate, upper surface glossy green and glabrous, lower surface pale green with scattered undulate or curly dark brown hairs, 9–19 secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins entire, apex mucronate or acuminate; petiole 1.5–3.7 cm long and densely pubescent; stipules covered in dense, rusty tomentum, adnate to the petiole. Flowers terminal, creamy white and fragrant, peduncle curved outwards or pendulous; tepals nine, outer three leathery, oblong to ovate and 3.5–5.7 cm long, inner tepals fleshy, spathulate to obovate and 9–12 cm long; stamens red; gynoecium sessile with 48–71 carpels. Fruits 5–7 cm long, ovoid; ripe carpels tuberculate, with a short beak. Flowering May to June, fruiting August to September (China). Chen & Nooteboom 1993, Liu et al. 2004. Distribution CHINA: Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan, Yunnan. Habitat Mixed forest between 400 and 1200 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 8. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Liu et al. 2004; NT493.
While less spectacular in leaf dimensions and pubescence than Magnolia megaphylla, its relative M. kwangtungensis seems to be a much more amenable garden tree, flowering freely from about 10 years of age and tolerating –18°C or colder with impunity in the JC Raulston Arboretum (Hogan 2008), although accounted among the less hardy by Figlar (2008). It is also somewhat more tolerant of sun and dry spells, but a sheltered moist location should still be the aim. An introduction made by Cliff Parks of Chapel Hill, North Carolina as seed collected in Guangdong Province in 1992 seems to have been the first, and the source of much of the stock in American cultivation. A tree at Camellia Forest Nursery is now 10 m tall (Figlar 2008), and as noted above, there is another at the JC Raulston Arboretum. Planted in 1995, this was only 4 m tall in 2006 but is doing well, forming a straight tree with dense foliage. The rufous pubescence on the twigs and petioles is a conspicuous feature of M. kwangtungensis, but it is much sparser on the leaf undersides than in M. megaphylla. A tree at Quarryhill is also 4 m tall, from a 1999 accession, but its foliage is sun-scorched and it has been damaged by frosts. Once again, high heat and humidity seem to be necessary for good growth. In Dorset (not noted for either of these climatic effects) John Gallagher’s specimen has gained a grand 15 cm in five years (pers. comm. 2007), while Kevin Hughes’ plant in Hampshire was killed outright by –6 °C following the cool summer of 2007.