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Tree to 30 m, 0.8 m dbh. Bark grey. Branchlets green with dense, appressed grey pubescence, though soon almost glabrous. Leaves evergreen, thin and leathery, 10–35 × 4–11 cm, elliptic to obovate, upper surface glabrous, lower surface with sparse pubescence, 6–12 secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins entire, apex acuminate; petiole 1.5–5 cm long, pubescent or glabrous; stipules with similar pubescence as on branchlets. Flowers on axillary shoots; shoots pubescent and with two to three evenly distributed scars. Flowers numerous, white and scented; tepals 10–12, lanceolate, 3–5.5 × 0.3–0.5 cm; stamens yellowish brown; gynoecium stipitate with ~10 pubescent carpels. Fruits 10–13 cm long; most carpels abort, but those that ripen are red, 1.2–1.8 cm long, hairy and beaked. Flowering April to September, fruiting October to November (China). Chen & Nooteboom 1993, Liu et al. 2004. Distribution This hybrid does not occur in the wild, but is cultivated in the Chinese provinces of Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Hainan and Yunnan, and throughout subtropical and tropical southeast Asia. USDA Hardiness Zone 9–10. Illustration Liu et al. 2004. Taxonomic note Magnolia ×alba is probably the result of a cross between M. champaca and M. montana (Blume) Figlar (Chen & Nooteboom 1993).
Magnolia ×alba is prized above all else for its fragrance, and its flowers are widely used in Asia for ceremonial gifts and temple offerings as well as for household and personal decoration. Its popularity has travelled with Asian immigrants to the United States and it is now widely grown there, especially by Asian families in California (S. Hogan, pers. comm. 2007). It is, however, a large tropical tree and distinctly tender, not growing outside north of the San Francisco area (S. Hogan, pers. comm. 2007). In Europe it is only known as a glasshouse plant.