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A deciduous tree 30 to 40 ft high, with a wide-spreading, open head of branches. Leaves among the largest in the genus, usually 12 to 20 in. long, and 6 to 10 in. wide (sometimes still larger); broadly oblanceolate, acute, tapered at both ends, pubescent beneath when young, strongly ribbed; stalk 1 to 2 in. long. Flowers produced in May and June, heavily and not agreeably scented. Petals six to nine, creamy white, 4 to 5 in. long, 2 in. wide (inner ones smaller). Fruits 4 in. long, cone-shaped, of a fine rosy-red; produced freely in this country, and very handsome; seeds scarlet.
Native of eastern N. America in the Allegheny region, from Pennsylvania southwards; introduced in 1752, and first flowered with Peter Collinson, 24 May 1760. Once the commonest and best known of American magnolias. It is called the ‘umbrella tree’ from the pose of its radiating cluster of large decurved leaves produced at the apex of the shoots. From the other big-leaved American species it is distinguished by the tapering base of its leaves. As a fruit-bearing tree it is the handsomest of all the magnolias in this country.
In its native habitat M. tripetala is an understorey species, rarely much over 40 ft high and 4 ft girth, sometimes many-stemmed from near the base. The following specimens therefore do it reasonable justice: Kew, pl. 1924, 30 × 2 + 2 ft (1980); Chelwood Vachery, Sussex, 59 × 4 ft at 2 ft (1981); Petworth House, Sussex, Pleasure Gardens, 52 × 21⁄2 ft with other stems (1983); Sheffield Park, Sussex, 42 × 21⁄4 ft (1984); Bicton, Devon, 36 ft high (1983); Chyverton, Cornwall, pl. 1936, 33 × 2 ft (1977).