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A deciduous tree occasionally over 100 ft high in the wild but so far not much over 60 ft in cultivation and then only when grown in woodland conditions; often, both in the wild and in gardens, it is many-stemmed from the base, wide-spreading but of no great height. Bark in cultivated trees pale grey (Hooker in his Journal describes the bark of the trees on Sinchul near Darjeeling as almost black, but this colouring may be due to lichens or algae). Leaves usually broadly elliptic, shortly acuminate or apiculate at the apex, rounded, obliquely rounded, or broad-cuneate at the base, 6 to 10 in. long, medium green and glabrous above, covered beneath with appressed hairs at least when young and usually permanently so (the leaves on some wild specimens are more narrowly elliptic and tapered at both ends). Flower-buds ovoid, hairy. Flowers produced in early spring before the leaves on usually glabrous peduncles; they are about 10 in. across with twelve to sixteen tepals which are clear pink, crimson, or white on the outside, paler within when coloured, the outer ones spreading, the inner four upright in the mature flower but forming a cap over the stamens and pistils when the flower first expands. Fruits about 8 in. long. Bot. Mag. t. 6793.
Native of the Himalaya from Nepal to Assam, commonest between 8,000 and 10,000 ft – a zone in which the forest is dominated by magnoliaceous species, oaks, and tree-rhododendrons; described in 1855 but known earlier. The first of many introductions was around 1865. M. campbellii is believed to have first flowered in the British Isles at Lakelands, Co. Cork, Ireland, in 1885; among the earliest flowerings in England were: Veitch’s Exeter nursery (1895), Abbotsbury, Dorset, (c. 1900); Leonardslee, Sussex (1907).
This fine tree – perhaps the most magnificent of the magnolias – flowers from February to early April according to the season and its flower-buds are susceptible to damage by frost and chilling winds from the time they first begin to swell. But the many thriving specimens at Kew and in gardens south of London testify to the hardiness of this species, even though the crop of flowers may be lost there more frequently than in south Cornwall and other more favoured regions. Unfortunately, fifteen to twenty or even more years will pass before the tree first produces flowers, by which time it may be 25 ft high.
M. campbellii thrives remarkably well at Kew, where there are two specimens – one, by the Victoria Gate, planted in 1904, and another of about the same age in a more open position near the Azalea Garden. The former produced well over 500 flowers of a good pink in 1959 (Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 84, p. 421 and fig. 120); the latter flowered well in 1972. In the woodland gardens of Sussex M. campbellii, though it may not flower so frequently as in Cornwall, grows just as well. A specimen at Wakehurst Place measures 60 × 71⁄4 ft (1969) and the largest at Caerhays in Cornwall is 66 × 7 ft (1971). At Windsor Great Park near London, where the climate is by no means ideal for the Asiatic tree magnolias, M. campbellii attained a height of 35 ft and a spread of 18 ft in seventeen years and produced its first flowers when sixteen years old (Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 88 (1963), p. 461).
The specimen of M. campbellii at Kew, by the Temple of Bellona near the Victoria Gate, has been given the clonal name ‘Queen Caroline’ (Award of Merit, March 29, 1977). It was introduced from the Calcutta Botanic Garden in 1904.
M. campbellii also occurs in easternmost Nepal.
specimens: Wakehurst Place, Sussex, 75 × 9 ft (1984); Nymans, Sussex, 85 × 73⁄4 ft at 2 ft (1985); Borde Hill, Sussex, Azalea Ring, 72 × 6 ft and, Warren Wood, 52 × 71⁄4 ft (1981); Leonardslee, Sussex, 85 × 63⁄4 ft (1984); Abbotsbury, Dorset, 60 × 6 ft (1980); Westonbirt, Glos., 54 × 61⁄4 ft (1982); Caerhays, Cornwall, 66 × 8 ft (1984); Trewidden, Cornwall, 52 × 61⁄4 + 51⁄4 ft (1979); Lanhydrock, Cornwall, 63 × 6 + 53⁄4 ft (1985); Trewithen, Cornwall, 58 × 53⁄4 ft and 54 × 61⁄4 ft (1979); Bosahan, Cornwall, 38 × 113⁄4 ft at 3 ft (1985); Stonefield, Argyll, 40 × 51⁄4 ft (1981); Belgrove, Co. Cork, Eire, 69 × 13 ft at 21⁄4 ft (1978, The Garden (Journ. R.H.S.), Vol. 104, p. 495); Kilmacurragh, Co. Wicklow, Eire, 42 × 71⁄2 ft (1980).
f. alba - specimens: Westonbirt, Glos., Circular Drive, pl. 1960, 43 × 21⁄4 ft (1978); Caerhays, Cornwall, 45 × 23⁄4 ft (1975); Trewidden, Cornwall, 40 × 31⁄2 ft (1979); Clyne Castle, nr Swansea, 80 × 41⁄2 ft (1982).
For interesting information concerning the white-flowered tree at Caerhays, see Neil Treseder, op. cit., pp. 91-3. Seedlings have been raised from it, the pollen-parents of which are uncertain. Normal M. campbellii may have contributed, but there is a possibility that some are hybrids. One of these, given to the gardens in Windsor Great Park, received a First Class Certificate in April 1973 under the name ‘Windsor Belle’, later changed to ‘Princess Margaret’. Another Caerhays seedling of M. campbellii f. alba, received from Messrs Hillier, was planted in the National Trust garden at Nymans, Sussex. This, named ‘Michael Rosse’, received an Award of Merit when exhibited on April 2, 1968.
var. mollicomata. – Although most of the older trees in Britain derive from Forrest’s 1924 and later sendings, there can be no doubt that var. mollicomata was first introduced by him to Caerhays in 1914. Among gardens that received seedlings from J. C. Williams of this sending were Kew and Sidbury Manor, Devon (Treseder, op. cit. pp. 94-5). Judging from the Kew trees, this was a weakly form of the species.
specimens: Kew, near Berberis Dell, pl. soon after 1914 (see above), 38 × 23⁄4 ft and another even smaller (1973); Savill Garden, Windsor Great Park, by Glasshouse, 42 × 33⁄4 ft (1983); Trewithen, Cornwall, 52 × 103⁄4 ft at 3 ft (1985); Bodnant, Gwyn., 62 × 41⁄4 ft (1981); Bulkeley Mill, Gwyn., 72 × 83⁄4 ft at 2 ft (1984).
M. campbellii var. campbellii × M. c. var. mollicomata. – The late Sir Harold Hillier insisted that he had seen young plants of this cross in Sir Charles Cave’s garden at Sidbury Manor, Devon, in the 1930s, something that would have been impossible if the var. mollicomata had not been introduced until 1924. Neil Treseder has established that it was in fact introduced to Caerhays in 1914 (see above under var. mollicomata). One of the Sidbury seedlings was propagated by Messrs Hillier and distributed under the clonal name ‘Sidbury’.
Some examples of this cross (the Cornish specimens possibly from Sidbury, the others from Charles Raffill’s later raising at Kew) are: Wakehurst Place, Sussex, in The Slips, 46 × 41⁄2 ft (1981); Westonbirt, Glos., Circular Drive, pl. 1960, 44 × 2 ft (1978); Antony House, Cornwall, pl. 1948, 54 × 5 ft (1978); Trengwainton, Cornwall, 50 × 51⁄2 ft at 4 ft and 52 × 61⁄4 ft (1979); Edinburgh Botanic Garden, 40 × 31⁄2 ft at 3 ft (1981).
M. moliicomata W. W. Sm.
M. c. subsp. mollicomata (W. W. Sm.) Johnstone