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Tree to 40 m, 1 m dbh. Branchlets greyish brown with clear or pale yellow appressed or erect hairs. Leaves evergreen, thin and leathery, 8–23(–34) × 3.4–9(–12) cm, ovate to oblong or lanceolate, upper surface glabrous, lower surface pubescent, 11–22 secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins entire, apex acute to long-acuminate; petiole 2–3.5 cm long and pubescent; stipules adnate to the petiole for over half of its length, densely pubescent. Flowers on axillary shoots, ivory to yellow or orange and very fragrant, subtended by three to four bracts, brachyblast slender, 0.7–1.2 cm long and tomentose; tepals 12–15(–21), the outer four to six tepals narrowly obovate or linear to spathulate and 2–4 × 0.7–0.9 cm, the inner tepals gradually smaller; stamens yellow-orange; gynoecium stipitate with ~30 carpels, tomentose. Fruits 2–15 cm long; ripe carpels ovoid to ellipsoid and densely lenticellate, 1–2 cm long and without a beak. Flowering May to July, fruiting September to October (China). Chen & Nooteboom 1993, Liu et al. 2004. Distribution CHINA: southeast Xizang, southern and southwest Yunnan (cultivated in Guangdong, Hainan, Jiangxi); INDIA; MYANMAR; NEPAL; VIETNAM. Habitat Evergreen broadleaved forest between 650 and 1600 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 9–10. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Liu et al. 2004.
During the New Trees workshop in January 2007 Carol Gurney, then Chairman of the International Dendrology Society, produced from his pocket a small bottle he had obtained in Myanmar into which a number of flowers of Magnolia champaca had been packed, then preserved in liquid, which had taken on their orange colouring. With some difficulty the stopper was extracted and we had the pleasure of experiencing in the chilly Cotswolds something of the fabulous ‘tropical’ fragrance of this tree. Carol Gurney has been brave enough to plant a specimen outside in his Suffolk garden, although Tom Hudson has yet to risk it at Tregrehan (pers. comms. 2007). Like M. ×alba it is a big tropical tree and greatly valued in Asia, but its long-term success in our area would seem improbable except in the very mildest and most sheltered places: in western America, –2 °C is sufficient to damage the plants (Hogan 2008).