Small deciduous tree, or large shrub, to 10 m. Bark black, smooth. Branchlets reddish brown to dark purplish red, densely covered with red-brown hairs when young. Leaf blade elliptic to broadly ovate, 10–24 × 5–14 cm, membranous; lower surface permanently covered with red-brown hairs; upper surface deep green, with red-brown hairs on the main veins; secondary veins 8–12 on each side of midvein; base rounded to subcordate; apex acute to obtuse. Petiole 3–3.5 cm; stipular scar nearly reaching petiole apex. Peduncle 5–6.5(–7.5) cm, curved to erect, with a bract scar ~6 mm below the tepals. Flowers appearing with the leaves, cupular, 6–7.6 cm across, fragrant. Tepals 9(–10), white to cream or greenish-white, obovate to elliptic, 4–7.5 × 2–3 cm, subequal, apex rounded. Stamens dark red, 1.2–1.7 cm; thecae connate to each other, apex slightly emarginate. Gynoecium green, ~3.5 cm. Fruiting peduncle thick and strong, densely villous. Fruit red when mature and later becoming reddish brown, terete, 6–8 cm, apex rounded; mature carpels with curved beaks. Seeds black, cordate, 7–8 × 7–9 mm. Flowering May–July, fruiting August–September (China). (Xia, Liu & Nooteboom 2008; Chen & Nooteboom 1993).
Distribution Bhutan Myanmar N China W Sichuan, S and SE Xizang, Yunnan India E Sikkim Nepal
Habitat Forests and thickets; 1900–3300 m.
USDA Hardiness Zone 8-9
RHS Hardiness Rating H4
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
Magnolia globosa is perhaps the least often grown of the tightknit group of species in Section Oyama, as well as having the westernmost wild range. Its modest size and often shrubby habit, nodding, fragrant flowers which appear with the leaves, creamy white tepals, red stamens and pendent fruits are typical of oyamas. However, its usually larger leaves, with dense rufous hairs beneath in some forms, set it apart from M. sieboldii, M. sinensis and M. wilsonii. It is also distinctive in the way its flowers tend not to open fully, forming egg-shaped cups of nine tepals in three whorls: this accounts for the vernacular names.
This widespread species of the Sino-Himalayan region was first described scientifically from the western end of its range in Sikkim (Hooker & Thomson 1855). It is a variable plant, and our perception of it in Western gardens is polarized by our experience of two contrasting early introductions from different parts of the range. These garden stocks are known as the Indian and Chinese forms (Foster 2011).
The Chinese form was introduced from SE Xizang in 1919 by George Forrest (F 21722); it was initially described as M. tsarongensis W.W. Smith & Forrest (Smith 1920), a name now sunk into synonymy with M. globosa. The Indian form was introduced from Sikkim by Dr J. Cromar Watt of Aberdeen in 1930. The Chinese form has conspicuous felted rufous hairs on the young shoots and petioles; the leaf undersides have rufous hairs on the midrib but appear grey-green between the veins. The Indian form has glabrous young shoots and petioles, but has reddish hairs between the veins beneath. Importantly, the Chinese form tends to come into leaf much earlier than the Indian, making it susceptible to frost damage in all but the mildest gardens. A number of more recent collections, most but not all from the Chinese end of the range, are becoming established in botanic gardens (see below) and may broaden our ideas of variation in this species. Note, for example, the images below of a rufous-hairy form in Sikkim.
While it is normal for the tepals to have a transient pink margin (Treseder 1978), a selection ‘Pink Axelle’ in which this margin is accentuated has had a small distribution in Europe. At least three other seedling forms with the inner row of tepals more or less persistently pink, and with more open, cupped, pendent flowers have been raised from a plant in the garden of the late John Phillips, Wiltshire, notably the selection ‘Pink Petticoats’ which has had a small distribution. Foliage, bark and flower characteristics suggest hybridity with M. wilsonii (M. Foster pers. comm. 2022). There is opportunity here for breeding what could in effect be a pink M. wilsonii.
Ideal garden conditions for the Hen Magnolia would be in good light but with some shade in the hottest part of the day, with reasonable soil moisture during the growing season (Foster 2011).
Large, old specimens in Europe are few and far between. A celebrated example of the Chinese form at Chyverton, Cornwall was measured at 5 m × 94 cm in 2016 (The Tree Register 2021), while a well known example of the Indian form at Trewithen, Cornwall (Treseder 1978) is now lost (Clarke 1988). From the Chinese end of the range, specimens from two collections made by the Gaoligong Shan Biotic Survey Expedition (Yunnan 2002) are established at RBG Edinburgh and Logan (Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 2021) while plants from WICM 32 are grown at Howick Hall, Northumberland (Howick Hall Arboretum 2021). From Bhutan there are plants from Clark & Sinclair 1711 (1990) at RBG Edinburgh and from Noltie, Pradhan, Sherub & Wangdi 391 at Benmore (Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 2021).
In Belgium the species is recorded at Arboretum Wespelaar and Arboretum Robert Lenoix, Rendeux (Plantcol 2021), In Germany it is grown in Bonn (Bonn University Botanic Garden 2021). However, such records may give a misleading impression. Philippe de Spoelberch notes that the majority of 18 accessions over the years at Arboretum Wespelaar have been lost, and that it is not really hardy there (pers. comm. 2022).
This is a rare tree in North America, but is recorded in a few West Coast collections, including the David C Lam Asian Garden, Vancouver (Chinese, from DJHC 11120 – University of British Columbia 2021), the Hoyt and Strybing Arboreta (Hoyt Arboretum 2021; Quarryhill Botanical Garden 2021), and Berkeley Botanical Garden (from Bhutan, B. Bartholomew 240). A 1997 Chinese collection, CCHH 8134 from the border region with Myanmar, has had a small commercial distribution (e.g. Far Reaches Farm 2021).
Its very few garden hybrids include ‘Porcelain Dove’ (with M. virginiana) and ‘Summer Solstice’ (probably with M. obovata).