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Tree 25–50 m, 0.5 m dbh. Branchlets slender, dark brown, pilose; buds white-villous. Leaves evergreen, thin and leathery, 6.5–17 × 3–5.6 cm, ovate to elliptic (rarely obovate), upper surface glossy green, lower surface glabrous or villous along the midrib, 12–15 veins on each side of the midrib, margins entire, apex long-acuminate ; petiole pubescent, 0.2–2 cm long, without stipule scars; stipules free, hairy. Flowers solitary, terminal, fragrant, tepals 9–11; outer three tepals oblong, 5.5–6 × 2 cm, pale green; inner tepals obovate to elliptic, white; stamens ~40, white to yellowish green; gynoecium stalked. Fruit clusters spicate, 3.5–4 cm long; ripe carpels 3–16, compressed globose, lenticellate. Flowering May, fruiting August to October (China). Chen & Nooteboom 1993, Liu et al. 2004. Distribution CHINA: Xizang, Yunnan; INDIA: Assam, Sikkim; MYANMAR; VIETNAM. Habitat Montane evergreen broadleaved forest between 1200 and 2800 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 9. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Liu et al. 2004.
Magnolia cathcartii is the only member of section Michelia subsection Maingola to be known in cultivation. Subsection Maingola differs from subsection Michelia (to which all other michelias mentioned here belong) in bearing flowers on long shoots, and only occasionally on brachyblasts, and in having anthers that dehisce towards the centre of the flower (introrse dehiscence) rather than at the edges (latrorse dehiscence). It has attractive creamy white flowers that are held at the end of the branchlets; the large size of the three outer tepals is distinctive. The species is as yet poorly known in our area, but is established in New Zealand. A recent collection was made in northern Vietnam by Dan Hinkley and Bleddyn and Sue Wynn-Jones (in 2003, under the number HWJ 874), from large trees growing at 2300 m on Fan Si Pan (Crûg Farm Plants 2007–2008).