In a cool and misty corner of San Francisco, the New Year begins with one of the city's most breathtaking annual natural marvels. San Francisco Botanical Garden is home to the most significant magnolia collection for conservation purposes outside China*, where the majority of species grow. Long considered the signature flower of the Garden, nearly 100 magnolias, many rare and historic, erupt in a fragrant riot of pink and white from mid-January through March. Paleobotanists consider the magnolia family to be among the earliest flowering plants, with magnolia fossils dating back nearly 100 million years. Ice age survivors, they bloom for us now.
Visit the Garden and take advantage of a whole host of special programs including a free Magnolia Walk map, docent and curator-led daytime and moonlight tours, family activities, library resources, Garden Bookstore discounts, and even a chance to learn Magnolia Mixology!
Magnolia Highlights Walk
Pick up a special FREE Magnolia Highlights map at the ticket kiosks (or download one in advance here) to help you tour and identify the most significant and spectacular Magnolias in our collection. The map corresponds to pink identification signs throughout the Garden.
Free Magnolia Docent Tours
Every Saturday, January 12–March 16.
Magnificent Magnolias Tour February 16
Enjoy a special guided tour of the Magnolia Collection with San Francisco Botanical Garden Curator Dr. Don Mahoney.
Magnolia Mixology January 31
Join Master Mixologist H. Joseph Ehrmann, owner of the renowned bar Elixir, for this hands-on magnolia-inspired cocktail class. Learn to blend magnolias, fresh herbs and spices from the Garden with premium organic spirits to create two tantalizing concoctions.
Magnolias, Camellias and Rhododendrons: Pencil DrawingFebruary 21
See why colored pencils are ideal for capturing the fragile glories and unique colors of these winter blooms. Practice mixing and layering color and explore burnishing, layering and impressed line techniques.
Garden Interpretation Stations Sundays, January 13– March 17
Visitors of all ages can stop by to ask questions and explore magnolias in more depth.
Children's Story Time in the LibraryJanuary 6, 20; February 3, 17; March 3, 17
Enjoy a different, themed, special story each month, then take a guided walk connecting the story to living plants. For kids ages 4-8. FREE; non-resident admission fee required for docent walks following readings.
Magnolia Mobile Making for Families January 20
Make a Magnolia Mobile using natural materials, including magnolia petals and leaves. For kids ages 3-12. FREE with admission.
Family Lunar New Year CelebrationFebruary 16 & 17
Celebrate the Year of the Snake and the Garden's many magnolias from China. Saturday, see lion dancers and lively folk dances by the SF Sunset Recreation Center Dance Troupe, pot a plant to take home, and make plant lanterns. Sunday, enjoy tai chi performances and participatory demonstrations, including dazzling sword forms and a procession of dragon dancers. Special Lunar New Year Story Times, too! FREE.
Secret Garden Magnolia Scavenger HuntMarch 9
Follow the clues to discover "Secret Gardens" and assemble materials for a secret art project. For kids ages 5-12. FREE with admission.
Magnolia campbellii 'Darjeeling'
Thought by many to be the most spectacular of all the magnolias that bloom at the Garden, this Himalayan selection was propagated from a tree at the Lloyd Botanic Garden in Darjeeling, India, and offers magnificent deep pink flowers emerging on leafless branches.
This endangered magnolia from China, named after the first superintendent of Harvard University's Arnold Arboretum, has large pink flowers, up to 10 inches, that droop and resemble flags blowing in the wind.
Magnolia campbellii 'Strybing White'
The largest magnolia at the Garden, towering over 80 feet, this special white form of the species was grown from seed purchased in India in 1934, propagated at the Golden Gate Park Nursery, and planted here in 1939.
The first magnolia from the East introduced to the western world when brought to England in 1780, it is called "Jade Lily" by the Chinese, due to the pure white, lily-shaped blossoms. It has the longest history of cultivation, dating back to the Tang Dynasty – 618 AD.
Magnolia campbellii 'Late Pink'
Introduced at the Garden from seed purchased in 1934 from G. Ghose and Co. in Darjeeling, India, the flowers of this magnolia appear 2-4 weeks later than other Magnolia campbellii, extending the Garden's magnolia viewing season.
The rarest magnolia in the Garden, and listed as critically endangered, only a few dozen of these plants were found when they were discovered in China in 1931.
One of the last magnolias discovered in the wild, this charming magnolia was found on China's Mt. Hwang in 1933. This particular tree was a gift from the Shanghai Botanical Garden, presented to the Garden by then-Mayor Diane Feinstein in 1982.
Our cup and saucer magnolia in the Camellia Garden (Bed 58A) was the first of this species to bloom in the U.S. when the Garden officially opened in 1940, attracting huge crowds of visitors who stood in line to see the large pink flowers of this lovely tree.
Magnolia x soulangeana
A deciduous hybrid between Magnolia liliflora and Magnolia denudata. Many hybrid cultivars are available today featuring an array of colors from white to deep purple.
Formerly Michelia yunnanensis, Magnolia laevifolia grows as a shrub or small tree with small creamy white flowers and golden tomentose (hairy) buds.
About the Collection
San Francisco Botanical Garden's magnolia collection includes 51 species and 33 cultivars, including many prized examples from Asia. This unique and long-standing collection began in 1939 with Eric Walther, who planted the very first magnolia in the Garden and continued to introduce species and cultivars throughout his tenure as the first Garden Director. One of the most famous species he planted was the cup and saucer magnolia or Magnolia campbellii, the first of its kind to bloom in the United States in 1940, attracting huge crowds of excited and curious visitors who stood in long lines to see the magnificent large pink blossoms of this lovely magnolia that still stands in the Garden today. More than a dozen other M. campbellii can now also be found throughout the Garden.