Medium evergreen tree to 20 m tall and 40 cm dbh. Bark dark grey to blackish-brown, smooth (at least when young); young twigs pale green at first, sometimes with golden to golden-brown appressed pubescence, later glabrescent, becoming brown after ~2 years. Buds, petioles and peduncles covered with same golden pubescence which sometimes extends to both surfaces of young leaves. Leaves leathery, obovate to elliptic, 13–20 × 3.5–5.0 cm, glabrous or glabrescent, apex acuminate to occasionally mucronate (mucro 4–7 mm long), base cuneate; secondary veins 12 to 15 on each side of the midrib, reticulation indistinct on both surfaces; petioles 1.7–2.5 cm long, stipular scar 4–7 mm or ~¼ the length of the petiole. Flowers fragrant; tepals 9, outer 3 green and relatively thin; inner 6 white, thickly fleshy (to 2.5 mm thick) with distinct transverse, furrow-like striations visible on both sides; the middle 3 tepals ovate, 4.5–5.5 × 2.5–3.5 cm, inner 3 narrowly ovate, 4–5 × 2–3 cm; stamens numerous, red, 6–9 mm, connective appendage short triangular, anthers 5–6 mm long, introrsely dehiscent. Gynoecium green, ovoid. Fruiting peduncle 1.5 × 0.5 cm, pedicle absent. Fruit cone-shaped (widest at the base), 4.2 × 3.3 cm; carpels 14 to 21, ovoid, ~1 cm diameter, dehiscing via the dorsal suture when ripe, 2–6 seeds per carpel; seeds covered with bright red sarcotesta; testa dark brown, longitudinally grooved. Flowering April–May (China), June (SE USA); fruiting September (SE USA). Diploid, 2n=38. (Qin et al. 2006).
Distribution China Guangxi, Guangdong
Habitat Broadleaved evergreen forest, 800–1200 m.
USDA Hardiness Zone 8-9
RHS Hardiness Rating H3
Conservation status Data deficient (DD)
Taxonomic note First published as Manglietia oblonga, its publication in Magnolia required a new specific epithet since the name Magnolia oblonga (Wall. ex Hook.f. & Thomson) Figlar already existed, for a member of Section Michelia.
A rare plant in gardens, M. xinganensis is unique among magnolia species for its flowers which have prominent striations rippling transversely across the 6 inner tepals, visible from both sides. The visual effect of these striae is strikingly similar to that of craquelure in ceramic glazes. Without flowers however, it is difficult to distinguish from Magnolia fordiana.
It was described as recently as 2006, from a plant at the South China Botanical Garden, Guangzhou, which had been wild collected in Lingui County, Guangxi in 1981 (Qin et al. 2006). Magnolia xinganensis is probably closely related to M. yuyuanensis, M. fordiana and M. fordiana var. forrestii. All four of these taxa have leaves with indistinct venation and reticulation, ovoid buds and gynoecia, outer 3 tepals pigmented green (or greenish white) as well as similar looking fruits. In consequence it is possible that taxonomists may someday treat M. xinganensis as a variety or subspecies of M. fordiana (R. Figlar, pers. obs.).
It subsequently emerged that the species had been in North American cultivation since 1993, labelled M. fordiana. Clifford Parks (University of North Carolina) collected seed along mesic slopes at 900–925 m near the village of Yuyuan, Ruyuan County, Guangdong, only about 100 km from the type locality for M. xinganensis in Guangxi (David Parks, pers. comm. 2017 to R. Figlar). He then shared the seed with his family’s retail nursery, Camellia Forest Nursery in Chapel Hill, NC. In 2006 Richard Figlar bought a plant from this stock, still labelled M. fordiana, and planted it at his Magnolian Grove Arboretum, SC. On first flowering in 2017 he recognized it to be M. xinganensis.
It makes a vigorous, columnar evergreen tree (Weathington 2019), but apart from the curious tepal striations, this species appears to have little other garden merit. It blooms rather sparingly and the flowers open quite late in the evening, often well after dark (D. Figlar pers. obs. 2021). M. xinganensis is established at the JC Raulston Arboretum, NC. Outside our area in the American southeast it grows at Atlanta Botanical Garden, GA, but probably the largest known specimen in Western cultivation is the 9–10 m tree at Magnolian Grove Arboretum. In Europe, Tom Hudson has material at Tregrehan, but has not yet risked it outside in the garden (pers. comm. 2022).