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Tree to 40 m, 1.2 m dbh. Bark grey and longitudinally fissured. Branchlets dark green to brown and glabrous. Leaves evergreen, leathery, 15–26(–30) × 5–8(–9.5) cm, narrowly obovate, upper surface glossy green and glabrous, lower surface pale green and glabrous, 13–16 secondary veins on each side of the midrib, margins entire and slightly revolute, apex short-acuminate; petiole 1.5–2 cm long, glabrous and slightly thickened at the base; stipules free from the petiole. Flowers solitary and terminal, fragrant; tepals nine, outer three oblong to spathulate, deep red outside and reddish pink inside, inner tepals obovate to spathulate, white and smaller than outer tepals; stamens cream to red; gynoecium sessile with 13–16 carpels. Fruits 5–8.5 cm long, obovoid to ellipsoid and green to brown; ripe carpels thick and woody, lenticellate, oblong to elliptic and 2.5–4 cm long, opening along the ventral suture and splitting at the apex. Flowering late April, fruiting October to November (China). Chen & Nooteboom 1993, Liu et al. 2004. Distribution CHINA: southeast Yunnan. Habitat Evergreen broadleaved forest between 1300 and 1550 m asl. USDA Hardiness Zone 9–10. Conservation status Critically Endangered. Known from a single population, with fewer than 10 individuals, and threatened by habitat loss, wood extraction and poor regeneration. Illustration Liu et al. 2004.
Given the extreme rarity of Magnolia sinica in the wild, it is good to know that it is in cultivation in the western hemisphere. Seed was obtained from Xichou Co., Yunnan by the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley in 1995, and from this introduction plants have been distributed to other collections, as well as being grown at Berkeley. At Quarryhill, a specimen from this source had achieved 4 m by 2004. It looks like a fastigiate Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) or perhaps a narrow-leaved Magnolia grandiflora, with the difference that the new leaves flush a handsome bronzy red. The leaves of the Quarryhill individual were somewhat sunburnt on the southwestern side when observed, indicating that some shade would be advisable. Magnolia sinica has apparently not been tried outside beyond California, and until a sufficiency of stock has been built up from cuttings it would seem inadvisable to risk material of this species in experimental plantings.