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A shrub or small bushy tree allied to M. acuminata with a dark brown scaly bark that does not become furrowed even on old specimens; young stems densely downy. Leaves smaller and comparatively broader than in M. acuminata, 4 to 6 in. long, 21⁄2 to 31⁄2 in. wide, more rounded at the apex, bases mostly rounded or broad cuneate (rarely cordate as the name would imply), of a deeper more lustrous green above and covered beneath with rather long, matted hairs. Flowers resembling those of M. acuminata in shape but smaller and with the petals yellow on the inside. Bot. Mag., t. 325.
This species was found by the elder Michaux growing wild ‘on open hillsides in upper Carolina and Georgia’ and described by him in 1803. He or his son may have introduced the species to France. There were at any rate two introductions to England in 1801 – by John Lyon to Loddigcs’s nursery; and by John Fraser, a plant collector who travelled in the south-eastern USA and had his own nursery in Sloane Square, London.
According to Prof. Sargent, writing in 1891 (Syh. N. A., Vol. 1, p. 8), M. cordata was at that time no longer known in the wild, though forms approaching it were to be found on the Blue Ridge of Carolina and in central Alabama. But in 1913 the species was rediscovered by Louis Berckmans in Georgia south of Augusta, near the Savannah river, growing in dry oak woodland. Since then it has been found in other localities in Georgia and also in N. Carolina.
Cultivated specimens, deriving from the old introductions, make slow-growing, low, stunted trees, perhaps 30 ft high eventually if they live long enough. At Kew a tree planted in 1906 is only 18 ft high (1959). Others in the collection flowered abundantly when only 4 to 6 ft high. M. cordata varies in the colour of its flowers; they are usually of a rather pale yellow, but forms with deeper-coloured flowers are, or have been, in cultivation; the rarity of the latter may be due to their tenderness.
It should be pointed out that the synonym given under the heading represents Sargent’s earlier view as to the status of this magnolia. In the second edition of his Manual he retained M. cordata as a species.
There has been confusion between this magnolia, which is always shrubby, and yellow-flowered forms of M. acuminata.
Considered as a variety of M. acuminata, its correct name would be var. subcordata (Spach) Dandy (Tulipastrum americanum var. subcordatum Spach; M. acuminata var. cordata (Michx.) Sarg.)