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Tree to 20 m, 0.6 m dbh. Bark pale grey or greyish brown. Branchlets green becoming grey, glabrous. Leaves evergreen, leathery, 9.5–17.5 × 3–7 cm, elliptic to obovate, both surfaces glabrous, 7–12 secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins entire, apex abruptly short-acuminate; petiole 1–3 cm long; stipules glabrous and free from the petiole. Flowers solitary or rarely paired, on axillary shoots, white and fragrant, brachyblast 1–2.8 cm long with two to four bracts; tepals six to nine, the outer three broadly obovate and attenuate at the base, 5–8 cm long, inner tepals 4.5–5 cm long, broadly obovate to elliptic or spathulate; stamens with pale purple filaments; gynoecium stipitate with many carpels. Fruits 10–12(–14) cm long and spicate; ripe carpels obovoid to ovoid, dull brown and lenticellate, 1–2.5 cm long with a short beak. Flowering February to March, fruiting September to October (China). Chen & Nooteboom 1993, Liu et al. 2004. Distribution CHINA: Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hainan, Hong Kong, Hunan, Jiangxi, Zhejiang. Habitat Evergreen broadleaved forests between 500 and 1500 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 8a. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Liu et al. 2004; NT474, NT500.
If just one member of section Michelia had to be chosen for a garden it would be a hard decision, but Magnolia maudiae var. maudiae would surely be on the shortlist. It combines large white flowers with good foliage and a pleasing shape of tree, plus good tolerance of a wide range of cultural conditions. Its first introduction to cultivation was again by Piroche Plants, as seedlings from Nanjing, and the resultant plants are now widely grown across the United States wherever conditions are suitable (Hogan 2008). Within this initial gene pool there is ample scope for selections, although it seems that few have actually been named. Other collections have been made, such as Peter Wharton’s (PW 126) from Guangxi, plants from which have the advantage of flowering in April and May, rather than earlier in the year as is typical of the Piroche importations. They are thus less liable to be damaged in areas suffering from spring frost. Where the late winter and early spring are mild, however, M. maudiae’s display begins in February and continues into early summer, with even a few autumn blooms occurring after a good growing season. The scent released by the flowers is amazing, and a famous street planting by Hogan and Sanderson in Portland perfumes the air for a whole block around and was a city sensation when the trees first bloomed profusely in 1999 (Wharton 2007, Hogan 2008). Magnolia maudiae flowers at an early age, with every axil bearing buds that can expand to be (in some clones) as much as 15 cm across. The colour ranges from pure white to cream, and some have a pink flush (including the selection ‘Touch of Pink’). The species has proved itself hardy to –18 °C in British Columbia, and has not been affected by temperatures of –10 °C in Oregon or southern England, where enthusiasts have been growing it for several years. Following the cool summer of 2007, however, when its growth failed to ripen, a plant grown by Kevin Hughes (pers. comm. 2008) in Hampshire was severely defoliated when temperatures fell to only –6 °C in the following winter. There is no doubt that it is a greedy feeder, and susceptible to chlorosis if not supplied with sufficient nitrogen, iron and magnesium (Hogan 2008), especially in areas with cooler summers. It also requires a consistent moisture level in the soil.
Unlike typical M. maudiae, which is completely glabrous (except for some tiny rufous hairs visible with a hand lens at the apex of flower buds), var. platypetala has rufous silky hairs on the buds, immature branchlets and young leaves. The leaves are slightly larger (11–20 × 4–7 cm) and the flowers have broader tepals. Liu et al. 2004, Figlar 2005b. Distribution CHINA: Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hubei, Hunan. Habitat Forests between 1200 and 1500 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 7b. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Liu et al. 2004. Taxonomic note This taxon probably ought to be recognised at the specific level, as M. platypetala, as it differs considerably from M. maudiae both in its hairiness and its later bud-break (R. Figlar, pers. comm. 2007). In the absence of a valid name in Magnolia or detailed study, however, we maintain the status quo here.* The Magnolia Society (Figlar 2005a) also recognise M. maudiae var. hunanensis (C.L. Peng & L.H. Yan) Sima.
Magnolia maudiae var. platypetala is a less amenable and attractive garden plant than var. maudiae, being less willing to establish and grow, and forming a sparser tree with smaller flowers, but the bronze indumentum gives it a distinct appearance. Hogan (2008) recommends a slightly shaded situation and the same abundant moisture as for var. maudiae, and notes that it is at least as hardy as the type, if not more so.
* Xia et al. (2008) treat this taxon as a variety of Magnolia cavaleriei.