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A deciduous tree or shrub up to 20 ft high; young shoots clothed at first with pale brown silky hairs; becoming glabrous and greyish the second year. Leaves oval, oval-oblong and obovate to roundish; rounded or abruptly pointed at the apex, wedge-shaped or rounded at the base, 3 to 7 in. long, 2 to 51⁄2 in. wide, glabrous and bright green above, slightly glaucous and at first very velvety beneath; stalk 3⁄4 to 21⁄2 in. long and, like the midrib, densely silky-hairy. Flowers saucer-shaped, white, fragrant, 4 to 5 in. wide, produced at the end of young leafy shoots on a stalk 1 to 2 in. long in June; tepals usually nine, oblong-obovate, 1 to 2 in. wide. Stamens numerous, 2⁄5 in. long, rosy-crimson. Fruits pendulous, cylindrical, 3 in. long, 11⁄2 in. wide, pink; seeds at first pink, ultimately scarlet.
Native of W. Szechwan, China; discovered and introduced to the Arnold Arboretum in 1908 by Wilson. It was found by him at altitudes of 7,500 to 9,000 ft and is perfectly hardy. Introduced to England through Messrs Chenault’s nursery at Orleans in 1920 and distributed under the name “M. nicholsoniana”. The magnolia to which that name was originally given is now regarded as a form of M. wilsonii (q.v.).
M. sinensis is a beautiful magnolia which thrives on chalky soils and is quite hardy (the original grafted plants imported from Chenault’s nurseries had the reputation of being difficult and somewhat tender, but this is perhaps accounted for by the use of an unsuitable stock.) Its spreading habit makes it less suitable for small gardens than M. wilsonii.
In his treatment of Magnolia (op. cit., p. 279), Dr Spongberg reduces M. sinensis to the status of a subspecies of M. sieboldii.
[M. × highdownensis] – According to Dr Stephen Spongberg (op. cit. pp. 277-8), the Highdown magnolia (and others like it which he saw on a visit to Britain) falls within the normal variation of M. wilsonii, of which M. × highdownensis Dandy thus becomes a synonym. As noted on page 665, the Highdown magnolia came from Caerhays in 1927, and was from a pan of seedlings whose label had been lost. There is an interesting possibility that they had been raised from seed of M. wilsonii collected in Yunnan. But Dr Grierson, who kindly consulted the accession books and specimens at Edinburgh, could find no evidence to support or disprove this suggestion.
M. sinensis × M. wilsonii. – Even if the Highdown magnolia is not of this parentage, it would be surprising if such a hybrid had not arisen in cultivation, and almost certainly it has done so at the Chateau de la Fosse in France. One of the seedlings, raised by Mrs Lort-Phillips, has been given the clonal name ‘Jersey Belle’ (Int. Dendr. Soc. Year Book 1981, pp. 120-21 and 1984, pp. 118-19).