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Tree to 30 m, 0.9 m dbh. Bark pale brown or grey. Branchlets dull greenish brown and glabrous with distinctive bamboo-like internodes. Leaves evergreen, leathery and glabrous, 6–11 × 2.5–3.5(–5) cm, elliptic, upper surface glossy dark green, lower surface green or brownish green, 9–13 secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins entire, apex acute to short-acuminate; petiole 1.5–2 cm long; stipules free from the petiole. Flowers terminal and androdioecious; staminate flowers pale yellow with 9–12 tepals, tepals thin, obovate to oblong and 2.5–3.5 cm long, stamens 30–70 with purplish red filaments; hermaphrodite flowers similar, but smaller, stamens 10–35, also with purplish red filaments, gynoecium sessile with 10–20 (rarely fewer) green carpels. Fruits red, 3.5–4.5 cm long, oblong to ovoid; ripe carpels 1.8–2.2 cm long, turning brown with a short beak, dehiscing along the dorsal suture. Flowering April to May, fruiting September to October (China). Chen & Nooteboom 1993, Liu et al. 2004. Distribution CHINA: Guangdong, Guangxi, Guizhou, Hainan, Hunan, Sichuan, Zhejiang. Habitat Broadleaved forest between 700 and 1700 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 6b–7a. Conservation status Endangered. Illustration Liu et al. 2004; NT496. Taxonomic note Based on their examination of herbarium specimens, Chen & Nooteboom (1993) treated Magnolia lotungensis as a variety of M. nitida W.W. Sm., but it has since been shown to be a hexaploid and genetically quite distinct from M. nitida (Chen et al. 2000); it also has purple-red coloured stamens, compared to white in M. nitida, and its flowers are androdioecious, rather than bisexual as in M. nitida. Recently Lin et al. (2006) have suggested that the very similar M. omeiensis (Hu & C.Y. Cheng) Dandy be merged with M. lotungensis, but this approach has not been adopted for the forthcoming revised edition of the World Checklist and Bibliography of Magnoliaceae (Govaerts & Figlar, in prep.) (R. Figlar, pers. comm. 2008).
This species is relatively widely grown, and is perhaps most to be valued for its stature, as a potentially tall but narrow evergreen tree, whose small glossy dark green leaves can flush bronze to purplish red. Certainly its flowers are disappointingly small, and likely to be more or less invisible among the foliage when the trees finally get round to producing them (no trees have yet been known to flower in cultivation: Figlar 2008). It was introduced in 1993 by Piroche Plants, and has been planted widely in the United States and British Columbia. Seedlings are rather variable, and Sean Hogan (pers. comm. 2007) reports that several selections have been made for superior foliage qualities, including one with brilliantly red new growth, the colour persisting into summer, and another with a slightly bluish sheen to the leaves. Wharton (2007) also praises the red-flushing clones. It is almost impossible to root from cuttings but grafts very easily onto stocks of section Yulania, so it should be possible to increase stocks of desirable clones very rapidly (Figlar 2008). Young trees seen in 2006 at the JC Raulston Arboretum and at Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina were thriving, forming good straight-stemmed trees that were well clad with glossy leaves. Fortunately this lovely tree seems to be remarkably hardy, and has shown no cold damage in either the Portland area (where trees are up to 8 m tall), or Vancouver (over 4 m tall) where temperatures of –9 °C were recorded in the winter of 2006–2007. It has been reported to withstand –18 °C without damage (Hogan 2008). Although it is commercially available in the United Kingdom, the only specimen here traced in our research is a young one of about 3 m, flourishing at Tregrehan.