Magnolia laevifolia, still commonly called Michelia yunnanensis in the nursery trade, is a lovely, small tree, not to be overlooked in the Garden. Although much smaller in stature than our towering cup and saucer Magnolia campbellii specimens, these hardy, richly-textured evergreen shrubs to small trees definitely add a welcome eye- and nose-catching garden feature when in full bloom from March to April.
Hailing from western China, including Guizhou, Sichuan, Yunnan, and southeast Xizang (Tibet), Magnolia laevifolia grows in thickets from 3500 to 7500 feet above sea level. This deep green-leaved magnolia is perfect for a modest-sized garden, growing to 10 to 15 feet in height. Used for perfumes, the fragrant flowers emerge from fuzzy, rust-colored buds, are stark white, and measure 1 to 2 inches in diameter. Unlike other magnolia garden favorites, including all deciduous species and some of the evergreen species, M. laevifolia flowers can be found at lateral positions along the stem's length instead of only at the stem tip. This fancy feature means that there are many more flowers on each stem, making for a lovely, dense display of bright white on dark green, peppered with rusty red buds. Even the fall-season fruit draw interest, as they mature and expose their deep red seeds.
Though most of San Francisco Botanical Garden's magnolia species originate from Asia, many of the world's species are found growing wild in North America, Central America, South America, and in the Caribbean. Our temperature-buffered, summer-foggy climate allows us to cultivate many of these species, and we are constantly working to expand our living collection of magnolias. In their native habitats, some species have been greatly appreciated for millennia for their beauty, their medicinal qualities, and for their wood. With the expansion of the human population, habitat loss, and sometimes due to the qualities that have endeared them to us, more than 50% of the world's over 230 magnolia species are considered endangered in the wild today.
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text by Corey Barnes. Photos by Joanne Taylor, and Brendan Lange