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A rather low, rounded deciduous tree, much branched, rarely more than 30, but sometimes 45 ft high. Leaves 3 to 6 in. long, 2 to 31⁄2 in. wide; oval to obovate, the apex contracting abruptly to a point, downy beneath. Flower-buds conspicuous all the winter by reason of their large scales being covered with grey, shaggy hairs. Flowers pure white, opening from March to May according to the season; petals 3 in. long, at first erect, afterwards spreading, thick, about nine in number. Fruits spindle-shaped, 5 in. long. Bot. Mag., t. 1621.
Native of China; introduced in 1789. One of the most beautiful and distinctive of all flowering trees, this magnolia is, unfortunately, an occasional victim to the inclemency of an English spring. Its flowers respond quickly to premature warmth in late February or March, only too often to be trapped by succeeding frost. A cold February and March suits it best. It never fails to set an abundance of blossom, and the white flowers gleaming in the sunshine of an early spring day render it the most conspicuous of all trees at that season. It was for long an uncommon tree, the most famous specimens being at Kew, Syon, and Gunnersbury House. It became commoner when Dutch nurseries began to propagate it by grafting on M. × soulangiana. By the Chinese the yulan has been cultivated for at least thirteen hundred years, and was once commonly planted there near temples and in the Imperial gardens.
M. denudata varies in the shape of its flowers. An Award of Merit was given in 1926 to the form distributed by Messrs R. Veitch of Exeter, known in gardens as Veitch’s ‘Best Yulan’. In this the tepals are broadly obovate, rounded and abruptly acuminate at the apex, in contrast to other forms in which the tepals are more oblong and tapered at the apex. G. H. Johnstone pointed out that the Veitch form agrees very well with the plate in Bot. Mag., t. 1621 (1814), which almost certainly represents the original introduction of 1789.
Perhaps the oldest example of M. denudata in Britain grows in the Goldsworth Nurseries near Woking, Surrey. It was planted in 1815.
It now seems inevitable that this name must give way to M. heptapeta (Buc’hoz) Dandy, and that of M. liliiflora to M. quinquepeta (Buc’hoz) Dandy. These new combinations were in fact published by Mr Dandy as long ago as 1934 but, in presenting his synopsis of the genus to the R.H.S. Camellia and Magnolia Conference of 1950, he retained the established names, and it was hoped that the last had been heard of M. heptapeta and M. quinquepeta. However, they reappeared in the slightly revised synopsis which he provided for Neil Treseder’s Magnolias (1978), and they are accepted by Dr Stephen Spongberg of the Arnold Arboretum in his papers on the magnolias, so further resistance is pointless.
Buc’hoz’s two species were published by him in 1779 in his new genus Lassonia and the plate accompanying his description was apparently based on a painting received from China (Plantes Nouvellement Découvertes, t.19). The plate shows flowers that are recognisably those of magnolias so far as the corollas go, but are quite imaginary in botanical detail. The calyx is shown as an involucre of bristles, while the gynoecium resembles that of the aquatic genus Nelumbo. Thus Lassonia is founded on a type that is largely a fiction and could therefore have been rejected under a former provision of the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature, according to which ‘a name must be rejected if it is based on a monstrosity.’ Unfortunately, this was deleted by the Leningrad Congress of 1975.
Pierre Joseph Buc’hoz has an unsavoury reputation. Pritzel, the botanical bibliographer, called him ‘Miserrimus compilator, fraude ac ignorantia aeque eminens’. Incidentally, it should be mentioned that in a footnote on this matter added to the second printing of the present volume, page 650, M. quinquepeta was mis-typed M. pentapeta, and so printed – a forgivable slip, as this epithet matches heptapeta. But Buc’hoz chose to compound one epithet from Greek and the other from Latin.
M. conspicua var. purpurascens Maxim