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Tree to 30 m, 1 m dbh. Bark smooth and grey-white. Branchlets yellowish or purplish brown with a dense covering of short brown, rufous or clear hairs. Leaves evergreen, leathery, 6.5–14 × 4–6.5 cm, elliptic to ovate, upper surface dark green with silky hairs, lower surface covered with rufous or yellowish hairs, 10–15 secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins entire, apex acute to short-acuminate; petiole 2.5–4 cm long; stipules with a dense covering of short brown, rufous or clear hairs, free from the petiole. Flowers solitary or in groups of two to three, on axillary shoots, white and very fragrant, brachyblast 1–1.3 cm long with scars from three bracts; tepals 9–12, the outer three narrowly obovate to spathulate, 3.5–4.5 cm long, the inner tepals smaller than the outer ones; stamens purple; gynoecium stipitate with ~28 carpels. Fruits 3–7 cm long and cylindrical; ripe carpels ellipsoid or subglobose, dull brown and sometimes lenticellate, 1.5–2.3 cm long. Flowering March to April, fruiting September to November (China). Chen & Nooteboom 1993, Liu et al. 2004. Distribution CHINA: Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan; VIETNAM. Habitat Evergreen broadleaved forests between 500 and 1000 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 9–10. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Liu et al. 2004. Taxonomic note Liu et al. (2004) and the Magnolia Society (Figlar 2005a) recognise M. macclurei var. sublanea Dandy, a minor variant with slightly larger flowers and densely tomentose branchlets, petioles, stipules and bracts. The species is closely related to M. mediocris (Dandy) Figlar and is included in it by some.
Magnolia macclurei is represented in cultivation only by small young plants, but it has flowered at a reasonable 2.5 m in Portland (S. Hogan, pers. comm. 2007). The flowers are a good white and possess an excellent fragrance. Figlar (2001) records how ‘when Floyd McClure discovered this species on a mountainside in Guangdong Province (near Canton or Guangzhou) in 1925, he remarked in his notebook, “The fragrance of the flowers is the most intoxicating I ever breathed.”’ A photograph in Magnolias of China (Liu et al. 2004) shows a tree absolutely laden with blooms, which must be an incredible visual and olfactory experience. Whether it will ever perform well in our area remains to be seen. It comes from low, hot regions, and in the United States is most likely to succeed in Florida. It was introduced to the United Kingdom by Kevin Hughes, who through his nursery Kevin Hughes Plants, Heale Gardens, Wiltshire has been responsible for distributing several of the rarer evergreen magnolias, from material largely supplied by Cistus Nursery and other American sources. Plants from Cistus Nursery have shown damage at –3 °C, which does not bode well, and Kevin Hughes’ plants have been repeatedly defoliated at –4 °C, though they recover as the weather warms up. Perhaps demonstrating the benefit of a properly hot summer, at Magnolian Grove Arboretum, Pickens, South Carolina it has survived two consecutive winters with temperatures down to –11 °C (R. Figlar, pers. comm. 2007).