Magnolia × soulangiana Soulange-Bodin

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Article from Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles



Other species in genus


(pl. apices) Tip. apical At the apex.
Bluish or greyish waxy substance on leaves or fruits.
Immature shoot protected by scales that develops into leaves and/or flowers.
Organism arising via vegetative or asexual reproduction.
Coordinated growth of leaves or flowers. Such new growth is often a different colour to mature foliage.
Plant originating from the cross-fertilisation of genetically distinct individuals (e.g. two species or two subspecies).
Small grains that contain the male reproductive cells. Produced in the anther.


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Article from Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles

A hybrid raised in the garden of Soulange-Bodin at Fromont, near Paris, from seed borne by M. denudata fertilised by pollen of M. liliiflora. The plant first flowered in 1826, and has since become the most popular of all magnolias in European gardens. In habit it is similar to M. denudata, forming a low, spreading, but more shapely tree. It flowers in April, rather later than the yulan, and is usually at its best when the flowers of that species are fading. Leaves 3 to 6 in. long, mostly narrower than those of the yulan, and especially more tapering towards the apex; they are downy beneath. The flowers appear first and make their great display on the naked shoots, but continue to develop until early June, when the tree is full of foliage. Numerous forms of this magnolia have appeared since 1826, raised mostly from its seeds. They are all alike in having the petals white inside and stained more or less with purple on the outside; but they vary in depth and shade of colour, and in the width and shape of the petals. Many forms of the cross have been given distinguishing names, but others have been grown as M. × soulangiana simply, and these certainly do not represent a single clone. It is unlikely that Soulange-Bodin raised, and gave his name to, a single hybrid seedling.

Some of the better known varieties are described below, but the nomenclature is unfortunately very confused. There are, for example, three Alexandrinas, at least two Alba Superbas and two Norbertiis, and in no case is the original description sufficiently detailed for the proper use of these and other confused names to be decided.

From the Supplement (Vol. V)

Although ‘soulangiana’ was the original spelling of the epithet, this has to be treated as an ‘orthographic error’ under the rules of nomenclature now in force.

In his excellent historical account of this group Neil Treseder advances the theory that the pollen-parent used by Soulange-Bodin, named M. purpurea, was not the species M. quinquepeta (liliiflora), as generally supposed, but was itself a hybrid between this species and M. heptapeta (denudata) which arose in China or Japan. There is nothing inherently unlikely in this theory. The two species have been grown in the gardens of China and Japan for many centuries and may well have crossed spontaneously there. Fortunately, whether Soulange-Bodin’s M. purpurea was itself in effect a form of M. × soulangeana has no bearing on the nomenclature of the group, since Latin names for hybrid groups cover back-crosses as well as straight crosses between the two parental species.

To Mr Treseder’s arguments it might be added that nothing is known for certain about the origin of the hybrids distributed by the Cels nursery of Montrouge in the early 1830s (‘Alexandrina’, ‘Norbertii’, ‘Speciosa’ and probably ‘Alba Superba’). These are supposed to have been either raised in the nursery or propagated from Soulange-Bodin seedlings, but it might be worth considering the possibility that they came from China. The founder of the nursery J. M. Cels (d. 1806) was famous as a collector of exotic plants, some of which came from China. Unfortunately the two illustrated works devoted to his collection throw no light on the matter.

The research devoted to M. × soulangeana when the current edition was being prepared was not extensive enough to establish the undoubted fact that Soulange-Bodin raised a considerable number of seedlings from his hybridisation, which was deliberate and not casual as Loudon states. The type of M. × soulangeana is the plant that flowered first, in 1826, but there were others in this batch and a further eight were selected from a repetition of the cross some years later.

Under modern rules of nomenclature the original clone of M. × soulangeana should be distinguished as ‘Soulangeana’, but there are no reasons for supposing that the plant that happened to come into flower first was more remarkable than any of the others. According to H. J. Grootendorst, the magnolia propagated in Dutch nurseries as M. × soulangeana, without cultivar-name, is a clone with the following characters: flowers bell-shaped, with nine sometimes ten tepals, the outer three small, soon reflexing, white with rosy streaks and shadings on the outside, especially at the base, the distant effect being uniform rose. This clone is easy to propagate by cuttings and layers and this characteristic is likely to have been the main factor in deciding which of the Soulange-Bodin hybrids survived in commerce.

What is almost certainly the Dutch clone is represented at Kew by an old plant (and many younger ones elsewhere in the collection), so it is possible to add to Mr Grootendorst’s description that the tepals are rounded at the apex (as indeed is implied in his description of the flowers as bell-shaped). For the Kew plants see Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 84, figs 83 and 123 and pp. 422-3 (1959). It is likely that it came from Koster’s nursery, as did the ‘Rustica Rubra’ and ‘Superba’ planted at the same time. But the magnolia common in British gardens as M. × soulangeana is different, having less colour in the flower and pointed tepals.

Alba Superba’. – There seems to be little doubt that Millais’ description is correct. The name appears in the Cels catalogue of 1835.

Alexandrina’. – The true ‘Alexandrina’ is described by Grootendorst (op. cit.) as follows: a large shrub, spreading in age, about 16 ft high; leaves large, almost round; flowers large, 6 to 7 in. wide when fully open, not so rounded in form as those of ‘Lennei’; tepals all more or less the same size, 312 to 412 in. long and about 2 in. wide, rosy purple on the outside, appearing rosy pink from a distance. This was another of the Cels hybrids.

The white-flowered plant at Kew under the name ‘Alexandrina’ may be ‘Alexandrina Alba’.

Amabilis’. – Pampanini’s description appears to be the correct one. According to Grootendorst, this magnolia was put into commerce by Baumann’s nursery in Alsace, in 1865. He describes it as similar to ‘Alba Superba’, but a weaker grower.

Burgundy’. – This name belongs to a magnolia listed by W. B. Clarke’s nurseries, San Jose, California, in 1943, propagated from a plant growing in a garden in the neighbourhood. ‘Dark flowers nearly as ‘rustica” but entirely distinct’ (F. M. Kluis, Descriptive List of Magnolias, p. 11 (1953)). This is scarcely the same as the plant in commerce in Britain as ‘Burgundy’, for which see ‘Purpliana’.

† ‘Grace McDade’. – Flowers large, creamy white with a purplish flush. Raised in the USA. Despite its striking flowers, this is a disappointment in the Windsor collection, being of poor habit.

Lennei Alba’. – This is of spreading habit, wider than high. Although raised in Switzerland, as stated, it was put into commerce by a Dutch nursery, in 1931.

Norbertii’. – The plants mentioned first on page 667 are certainly the true ‘Norbertii’ and the Grays wood Hill plant (A. M. 1960) wrongly named.

Picture’. – This fine magnolia was found by Koichiro Wada growing in the garden of Kaga Castle in Kanazawa, Ishikawa province, about 1930 and was propagated by approach-grafting (Neil Treseder, op. cit., p. 175). The flowers are remarkably large, about 10 in. wide when fully expanded, opening in late April or the first half of May, and are borne even on young plants. The most improbable suggestion has been made that M. campbelli enters into its parentage.

Purpliana’ (‘Burgundy’). – Flowers uniform mauvish pink, very freely borne. Young foliage bronzy purple. Vigorous. Raised in the USA, where it was distributed by the Overlook Nurseries, Mobile, Alabama; distributed in Britain as ‘Burgundy’.

Rustica Rubra’. – The history of this clone, as given by Mr Grootendorst, is that in the 1880s there were numerous seedlings of ‘Lennei’ in Dutch nurseries. Of these two were selected by the nurseryman de Vos and put into commerce by the successor firm C. Wezelenburg of Hazerswoude. These were ‘Rustica Rubra’ and ‘Rustica’, and were selected and named not because they were improvements on ‘Lennei’ but simply because they were hardier than it in Holland. ‘Rustica Rubra’ grows taller than ‘Lennei’ and has somewhat paler flowers, borne earlier.

As for ‘Rustica’, Mr Grootendorst knew of no authentic plant, but there is a possibility that the collective name M. soulangiana rustica was applied to seedlings of ‘Lennei’ used as stocks for grafting.

† ‘Sundew’. – This fine magnolia has large, silvery pink flowers shaped as in ‘Lennei’, borne freely even on young plants. Upright habit. Raised by Messrs Pickard of Canterbury and put into commerce in 1969. It is said to be a seedling of ‘Picture’.

Superba’. – According to Grootendorst, this is a rare clone, of which two plants were recently discovered at Boskoop. He adds that it flowers when so young that it is possible for nurserymen to supply the customer with plants in bud or bloom.

Verbanica’. – This is said to have been put into commerce by Leroy of Angers. But the name suggests that it originated on Lake Maggiore, either in a private garden or, more likely, in the Rovelli nurseries at Pallanza.


An ambiguous name, which has been used for both ‘Alba Superba’ and ‘Amabilis’.

'Alba Superba'

The plant grown by Millais under this name was near to M. denudata but flowered ten days later and was of more upright habit. Leaves said by him to be very similar to those of M. denudata; flowers with nine petaloid tepals 3{3/4} in. long, 2 in. wide at the broadest part, sometimes with a faint pink tinge along the centre line. A magnolia in commerce under the same name seems to be different, the tepals being narrower and the leaves elliptic or fairly narrowly oblong-obovate. Correctly named or not, the latter is a beautiful magnolia, with very fragrant flowers and of dense, erect habit.


The original variety was raised or distributed by Cels of Montrouge, before 1831, but the name seems to have been used for several distinct varieties. The plant grown by Millais was of erect habit with tepals 4 × 2 in., heavily flushed rosy-purple and with darker purple lines up to three-quarters of their length, but the colouring more purple and less rosy in some seasons. Flowers produced with the leaves in early April. This is perhaps the same as the ‘Alexandrina’ of Van Houtte’s nursery and of Rev. Hort. Belg., Vol. 26, t. 217. The ‘Alexandrina’ of the Nantes nurserymen is said to have resembled ‘Lennei’ but with smaller flowers. The ‘Alexandrina’ described by Mouillefert (Tr. Arb. et Arbriss., Vol. 1, p. 119) had almost pure white flowers, as does the plant at Kew in the garden of the Wood Museum (Duke’s Garden).


According to Millais this is ‘a seedling hybrid sent out by the Dutch and Belgian nurserymen. The general habit and flowers are like M. denudata, pure white, fairly large and possessing a chocolate centre’ (op. cit., p. 83). This is scarcely the same as the ‘Amabilis’ known to P. C. Veitch, which had small flowers with very narrow petals (Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 46 (1921), p. 316). According to Pampanini’s account, ‘Amabilis’ was raised in France and has spreading petals tinted violet on the outside (Boll. Soc. Ort. Tosc., Vol. 40, p. 199).


Flowers up to 10 in. across when fully expanded, white on the outside except for a purple flush at the base. This is one of the last of the group to flower (second half of April). According to Millais, this variety was first sent out by Messrs Barbier of Orleans about 1913, but the plant at Borde Hill in Sussex came from Leroy of Angers in 1908. Where it arose is not known, but Sig. Coggiatti, President of the society Giardino Romano, tells us that Camillo Brozzoni had a garden at Brescia in the middle of the last century, and that Camellia japonica ‘Angela Cocchi’ was raised there by his gardener.


This variety is very different from the average forms of M. × soulangiana. The leaves are larger and broader (as much as 8 × 5 in.) and more strongly ribbed; the flowers too are finer and more richly coloured. Petals very fleshy, broadly obovate, often 4 in. long and 4 in. wide, concave like a broad spoon, and of a beautiful shade of rose-purple outside, white within. The flowers start to open in late April, and continue through May, so that they are not often injured by frost. Occasionally a second crop is borne in the autumn.This remarkable magnolia arose in Italy and was introduced to Germany about 1854 by the nurseryman Topf of Erfurt, who named it after Lenné, at one time director of the Royal Gardens of Prussia. Where in Italy it was raised is not certain. Van Houtte, who figured it in Flore des Serres, t. 1693, said it was a gift of the ‘charming little bees of Lombardy’. Pampanini (Boll. Soc. Ort. Tosc., Vol. 40, pp. 214-216) favoured the tradition that itwas raised by Conte Giuseppe Salvi of Florence, who originally named it ‘Maometto’ (‘Mahomet’). According to another version it was raised at Vicenza, around 1850.

'Lennei Alba'

Flowers pure white, goblet-shaped. Near to M. denudata and flowering at the same time or slightly later. Despite its name, it is not a white-flowered form of ‘Lennei’, though it may be a seedling of it. Raised in Switzerland early this century, it has recently come into prominence as a substitute for M. denudata, being easier to propagate than that species.


This was raised in France and offered by Cels of Montrouge in his 1835 catalogue. Some plants seen under this name are of erect, rather gaunt habit, with flowers heavily stained purple on the outside. But the fine specimen grown under this name at Grayswood Hill, Surrey, which received an Award of Merit in 1960, is very near to the magnolia in commerce as ‘Alba Superba’. It is of dense, erect habit, with dark green foliage.


Flowers large, all the tepals heavily stained purplish red on the outside. Tepals long, narrowly oblong spathulate, the outer ones spreading. A very fine variety of recent introduction, distributed by Messrs Wada of Japan. A.M. 1969. It is of erect habit.

'Rustica Rubra'

Similar to ‘Lennei’ and probably a seedling of it. It was found in a nursery at Boskoop, Holland, some time before 1893 and first distributed by the Hazerswoude nurseries of Leyden. The tepals are more rose-coloured than in ‘Lennei’ and proportionately shorter and broader (Fl. & Sylv., Vol. 1, p. 17 and plate facing p. 16). The statement made in previous editions of the present work, that this variety was used as a stock for grafting, perhaps refers to a different magnolia, known as M × soulangiana rustica simply.


The magnolia described under this name in recent works has large flowers, borne late in the season (at about the same time as ‘Brozzonii’). Tepals white, flushed purple at the base, remaining erect but the tepals of the outer whorl bending outward at the midpoint. It is puzzling that this magnolia closely resembles the variety described and figured by Millais as ‘Spectabilis’. The name ‘Speciosa’ starts in Sertum Botanicum, Vol. 4 (1832), p. 85, where a plant is figured which does not seem to be the same as the one described above; it is said to have come from Ghent. Other descriptions are given in Rev. Hort. (1912), p. 371 and in Gartfl. (1894), p. 300. The name M. speciosa also appears, without description, in the catalogue of the Paris nurseryman Cels for 1835.


There is a magnolia at Kew near the Azalea Garden, which was received under this name from Messrs Koster of Holland in 1907. The flowers are almost pure white, vase-shaped, rather small, the tepals of the middle whorl being about 3{1/4} in. long; outer whorl almost as long as the middle one.


This very striking variety is rare in Britain. The inner and median whorls of tepals are strap-shaped and usually evenly tinted rose on the outside; outer whorl almost as long as the inner two, also rose on the outside but fading to white at the apex. It flowers late, at about the same time as ‘Brozzonii’. In some seasons the colouring of the tepals is concentrated in lines and streaks, instead of being more or less evenly diffused.


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