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This species was described by Bean (B738), who called it a ‘cheerful evergreen’ and assessed it as hardy in the milder parts of the British Isles. Several varieties have since been recognised, however, and a key for these is presented below. Recent selections available in commerce include ‘Port Wine’, ‘Purple Queen’, and ‘Stubbs Purple’ with a strong purplish suffusion through the tepals. ‘Stubbs Purple’ is said to be hardier than most (Eisenhut 2008). It is not clear if these darker-flowered cultivars are referable to var. figo or var. crassipes. The taxonomy of the plant formerly known as Michelia skin-neriana is dubious (see below) but it is horticulturally distinct, and the name Magnolia figo Skinneriana Group is provided here to recognise these differences.
Shrub or tree to 5 m tall; leaves 7–13 × 2.5–4 cm with 6–9 pairs of lateral veins; brachyblast 0.3–0.4 cm long; flowers purple or reddish purple with thin tepals 1.8–2 cm long, gynoecium shorter than androecium; China (north Guangdong, northeast Guangxi)
Shrub or tree to 15 m tall; leaves 2–12 × 1.5–4.5 cm with 7–13 pairs of lateral veins; brachyblast 0.4–2.7 cm long; flowers white or yellow with thick tepals 1.5–2.5 cm long, gynoecium longer than androecium
Branchlets dark grey to brown; leaves with 7–12 pairs of lateral veins; China (Anhui, Guangdong, Guangxi, Jiangxi, Zhejiang)
Branchlets tan to tawny; leaves with 10–13 pairs of lateral veins; China (Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan, Jiangxi, Zhejiang)
Michelia crassipes Y.W. Law
Var. crassipes appears to be reasonably distinct from typical Magnolia figo, as its flowers are a different colour (purple, vs. creamy white or yellow in var. figo) and it forms a small tree of 5 m or less. It also has a short, stout brachyblast and fewer lateral veins in the leaves. Figlar 2005b. Distribution CHINA: northern Guangdong, northeast Guangxi, southern Hunan. Habitat Forests between 300 and 700 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 7b. Conservation status Not evaluated. Illustration Liu et al. 2004; NT488.
In addition to the botanical distinctions noted above, var. crassipes has certain horticultural differences that make it more useful in the garden than var. figo. Most valuable of these is that its flowers last for two to three days, instead of one, and are a good dark red. The plant itself tends to be of denser habit and has thicker leaves.