USDA Hardiness Zone 5-9
RHS Hardiness Rating H6
This hybrid group includes some of the best known, adaptable and widely planted magnolias in gardens around the world. Flowering before leaf emergence, these bulky shrubs or small, spreading trees have perhaps even been ‘over-used but with ample justification’ (Dirr 2009). They are a glorious sign of spring on suburban streets across Britain, and to most non-specialist gardeners are the archetypal magnolia.
The name M. × soulangeana covers all hybrids between M. denudata and M. liliiflora, including second or subsequent generations, and backcrosses to either parent, so long as genes from further species do not become involved. Inevitably, there is considerable variation among cultivars although a single clone (‘Étienne Soulange-Bodin’) dominates plantings, usually simply labelled M. × soulangeana. Flowers have nine tepals and are held upright, but vary between cultivars in significant ways. They may be tulip-, goblet- or cup-and-saucer-shaped, and range from milky white through shades of pink to an intense reddish purple, while some are bicoloured. Flowering time is sensitive to climate and weather, varying significantly year on year; late March to mid-April is typical in southern England, earlier in milder gardens (typically from mid-February in California). The tepals have a firm constitution and are fairly resistant to rain and wind, but are disfigured even by light frost. In milder areas and those prone to ‘start-stop’ springs, later flowering cultivars are advantageous. Leaves too are quite variable, broadly elliptic to obovate, to 20 × 12 cm, dark glossy green above, paler beneath, with fine hairs along the midrib and main veins. While all tend to start as multistemmed shrubs, eventually becoming tree-like when allowed, they range in vigour: ‘Lilliputian’ and ‘Sweet Simplicity’ are among the least vigorous, whilst ‘Brozzonii’, ‘Rustica Rubra’ and ‘Picture’ are at the strong-growing end of the spectrum.
Magnolia × soulangeana is an easy garden plant, growing successfully on most soils, apart from the thinnest, driest of chalky soils. It is one of the most wind tolerant magnolias. It regenerates vigorously after pruning or shoot damage by severe late frosts; pruning is best done straight after flowering or in late summer (winter pruning is effective but wasteful of flower buds). Since this is a plant often used in smaller gardens, where its spread may become a problem after a few decades, it is worth emphasising how the crowns of this type of magnolia become broad. Most major branches begin life as vigorous, upright water shoots which sag outwards under the weight of leaves and branchlets after a few years; they continue to elongate and drop, eventually to the horizontal or below. Branches which become a nuisance to roads, buildings or movement around the garden are usually best removed completely rather than shortened, since their place will be taken by others within a few seasons.
Although this hybrid probably occurred spontaneously in Japanese gardens or nurseries long ago, it was first recognized from deliberate crosses made by the French army officer turned plantsman-gardener Étienne Soulange-Bodin from 1820. While it has usually been supposed that he pollinated M. denudata with M. liliiflora, Treseder (1978) makes the case that the pollen parent may itself have been a denudata / liliiflora hybrid originating in Japan (incidentally, this would not invalidate the publication of the nothospecies). A number of seedlings were raised; while the ubiquitous ‘Étienne Soulange-Bodin’ is one of them, although it may not have been clone selected as the type for the nothospecies. M. × soulangeana was in the European nursery trade by the 1830s. Numerous cultivars have subsequently been raised in Europe, Japan and North America, both by remaking the primary hybrid and through raising F2 and backcrossed seedlings.
Magnolia × soulangeana is widely grown in Europe, certainly as far east as Poland (Anisko & Czekalski 1991) and north to the milder parts of Sweden (Flinck 1993). It is equally familiar in North America, thriving all up the West Coast and from the Great Lakes area and New England south to N Florida (Dirr 2017) by way of the Midwest, where it is the most commonly planted magnolia in Kansas City, Missouri/Kansas (Branhagen 2006). Choice of cultivar is important at the limits of hardiness, whether in Europe or North America.
Synonyms / alternative names
Magnolia × soulangeana 'Alba' ambig.
Flowers cup-and-saucer-shaped; tepals pure white with purple-pink basal blotch. One of the earliest to flower. Introduced by Louis Van Houtte’s Belgian nursery, 1867. Still widely sold by British nurseries, but not now recommended by Philippe de Spoelberch from his Belgian perspective (pers. comm. 2021).
A confused and devalued name, originally used by Cels of Paris in 1831, but now applied to at least three clones. Further study and new names are required; they are too different for a Group to be appropriate (Lobdell 2021). The usual form grown in Europe has tulip-shaped flowers with 9 tepals to 10 cm long, white flushed purple outside. The usual North American form has cup shaped flowers, white flushed a lighter reddish purple outside, giving a bicoloured effect when old and young flowers are seen together. A third clone has almost pure white flowers.
Flowers quite large, fragrant, white with a purple flush at the base inside, often concealed. Flowers and habit approach M. denudata. In the French nursery trade by 1865. (Bean 1981; Edwards & Marshall 2019; Treseder 1978)
Late flowering, about 2 weeks after the majority of M. × soulangeana cultivars; white inside, pink-flushed outside; flowering from an early age (Piet Vergeldt Boomkwekerij 2022; Frank P Matthews 2022). Origin before 2018, probably from the Château du Beugnon, France (Heerdegen & Eisenhut 2020).
Flowers large, late (typically the second half of April in S England), initially almost candle-like, ultimately cup-and-saucer shaped; tepals ~13 × 8 cm, white, stained purplish at the base. A second generation seedling probably raised in Camillo Brozzoni’s garden at Brescia, Italy; in commerce with the Leroy nursery, France, by 1873. Philippe de Spoelberch rates this the best M. × soulangeana cultivar.
Flowers to 20 cm across, typically deep purple-red in North America, more often rose-pink in the lower light levels of a British spring. Floriferous and early flowering. Raised by W. B. Clarke nursery, San Jose, CA, in the 1930s; introduced 1943.
Flowers cup-and-saucer shaped; tepals reddish pink outside, white inside. A paler seedling of M. × soulangeana ‘Rustica Rubra’ raised by Leonard Coates Nursery Co., CA, introduced 1973 by Gossler Farms, OR.
M. × soulangeana 'Rustica Rubra' × M. liliiflora 'Nigra'
Flowers wine-red; an upright, floriferous tree. Introduced 1966 by Otto Spring Nursery, Okmulgee, OK.
Open pollinated seedling of M. × soulangeana 'Lennei'
Flowers dark purple, resembling ‘Lennei’ but even later flowering. Important mainly as a parent of dark-flowered hybrids. Selected at Gloster Arboretum, MS from seedlings purchased from Tom Dodd Nursery, AL before 1994.
Flowers large, tulip-shaped; tepals white, stained rose-purple at the base. This is the ubiquitous, wonderfully floriferous clone usually labelled simply M. × soulangeana; one of Soulange-Bodin’s original seedlings, only recently given a cultivar name (Gardiner 2000).
This is surely the archetypal suburban Magnolia, as referenced in Saki’s (1919) short story ‘The Mappined Life’, a commentary on the constraints conventionality brings to life.
Flowers very large, to 23 cm across. Tepals ovate, white flushed purple-pink at the base outside. Probably a ‘Lennei’ seedling, introduced 1945 by Clint McDade, AL.
Flowers goblet-shaped, very large, clear pink flushed deeper at the base, mid-April (S England). Large obovate leaves; compact, upright habit; floriferous. Chance seedling found by John Gallagher, Dorset, in the 1970s. Williams, Gardiner & Gallagher (2016) highlight it as an up-and-coming cultivar in Europe.
Flowers large, tulip shaped, late-season (late April to May and beyond); tepals broad and fleshy, rose purple outside (one of the darkest M. × soulangeana), white inside. Fast growing and free-flowering, a septaploid (2n=133). The details of its origin, in mid-19th century N Italy, are not entirely clear – van Houtte (1865) attributed it to ‘the charming little bees of Italy’. Treseder (1978) claimed it as a second generation seedling, probably raised by Giuseppe Manetti of Monza, around 1840. Alfred Topf’s German nursery reputedly acquired it for a vast sum around 1854 (Bean 1981). The name commemorates Peter Joseph Lenné (1789–1866), one of the foremost garden and landscape designers in the Prussian Empire.
Flowers large, white, more or less goblet-shaped, much resembling those of M. denudata. Perhaps a seedling of ‘Lennei’; raised 1905 by Froebel, Switzerland; introduced 1931 by Keesen, The Netherlands. The water may have been muddied by other clones with smaller, creamier flowers masquerading under the name.
Synonyms / alternative names
Magnolia × soulangeana 'Lilenny'
Magnolia × soulangenana 'Lileny'
Flowers early April in S England, initially candle-shaped as in M. liliiflora, more typical cup shape from the second day; tepals 9, clear pink. A medium to large shrub raised as a backcross (M. × soulangeana ‘Lennei’ × M. lilliflora) by Amos Pickard, Kent, before 1974.
The smallest M. × soulangeana cultivar, both in habit and flower size. Tepals pale pink, deeper towards the base. The name can be traced to the 1946 catalogue of Semmes Nursery, AL.
Tepals white, to 10 cm long, with some purple flushing outside. Introduced by the Cels nursery, Paris in or before 1835. Today two clones seem to be circulating under the name, one more erect and with darker purple shading (Treseder 1978; Bean 1981).
M. liliiflora 'Nigra' × (M. × soulangeana 'Sweet Simplicity')
Flowers before the leaves (April, S England), delicately scented; tepals 6, ~ 9× 6 cm, wine red outside, off-white inside. Selected 1992 in New Zealand, by Vance Hooper, then of Duncan & Davies.
Flowers goblet-shaped, fragrant, wine red, darker than ‘Lennei’; sometimes with extra tepals. Highlighted by Philippe de Spoelberch, Belgium as an ‘interesting double’ (pers. comm. 2021). This and the other ‘Pickard’ cultivars listed below (many more exist!) were seedlings descended from ‘Picture’, raised by Amos Pickard, Kent, in the 1960s. While they are usually listed as open pollinated seedlings of ‘Picture’ (e.g. Gardiner 2000; Edwards & Marshall 2019), the registration details claim them as being one generation further on, open pollinated seedlings of a pure white flowered seedling from ‘Picture’ (Fogg & Del Tredici 1984).
Flowers goblet-shaped, white with slight purple-pink veining at the base, inside and out.
Flowers goblet-shaped, fragrant; tepals purple-red outside.
Flowers with narrow tepals to 15 cm long, creamy white deeply stained with reddish purple outside, very elegant. One of the most vigorous and satisfactory of the ‘Pickards’, forming an upright small tree; ‘the best Pickard cultivar’ writes Philippe de Spoelberch, Belgium (pers. comm. 2021). Named for Pickard’s wife Lieselotte, known to him as ‘butterfly’ (= Schmetterling in German).
Flowers large, vase-shaped; tepals pure white with no hint of pink or purple. Philippe de Spoelberch singles this out as a particularly good white variety (pers. comm. 2021).
Flowers very large; tepals 15–17.5 cm long, thick, white inside, heavily stained purplish red outside. Erect habit. Aneuploid (2n=143). Found by nurseryman Koichiro Wada as an old plant in the garden of Kaga Castle, Kanazawa, Japan; it may predate clones of European origin (Treseder 1978). Some have hypothesized involvement of M. campbellii (Lobdell 2021). Not recommended from a Belgian perspective by Philippe de Spoelberch (pers. comm. 2021).
Flowers goblet shaped, in the middle of the M. × soulangeana season; tepals broad, reddish purple outside, pinkish white inside. The flowers closely resemble ‘Lennei’, slightly earlier and less intensely coloured, with more red in the hue. Probably an open-pollinated seedling of ‘Lennei’ raised in Boskoop, Netherlands, before 1893.
Flowers goblet-shaped, deep purplish pink outside, nearly as dark as ‘Lennei’, white inside; late flowering. Introduced by W.B. Clarke Nursery, San Jose, CA, around 1938. In North America a second plant (origin unknown) has sometimes also gone under this name; it has white flowers with a dark pink ‘thumb print’ near each tepal base.
Flowers nearly white, with some purple streaking outside. Late flowering, about the same time as ‘Brozzonii’, with upright growth. In the French and Belgian nursery trade by about 1830.
Flowers small, fragrant, goblet-shaped; tepals rose-pink outside, white inside, very uniform in colour and shape. Found in the 1980s by Vance Hooper in a New Zealand garden centre, labelled ‘M. sieboldii’ (Hooper 2008); it is important primarily as a parent in Hooper’s breeding programme, but is available commercially in Europe.
Flowers goblet-shaped, rich rose-purple outside with a distinctive cream margin, cream inside. A backcrossed seedling (M. liliiflora ‘Nigra’ × (M. × soulangeana ‘San Jose’)) at Duncan & Davies’ New Zealand nursery, selected 1994 by Vance Hooper (Boland 2005).
Flowers goblet-shaped, deep red-pink outside, white inside. European origin, before 1841. More or less extinct commercially, but well represented in older collections.
Flowers cup-shaped; tepals 11 × 5 cm, clean, rich pink outside, paler towards the tips, white inside. Late flowering, at about the same time as ‘Brozzonii’. Striking when well grown; flowers smaller and ‘dirty’ coloured when starved. Introduced 1873 by the Leroy nursery, Angers, France.
Flowers very large, goblet-shaped, splaying open on the second day; tepals milky white, sometimes with a hint of pink. Vigorous. An open-pollinated seedling of M. × soulangeana ‘Picture’ from the Wada nursery, Japan, before 1989. Starred as worthwhile by Philippe de Spoelberch (pers. comm. 2021).