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 during magnolia season as we celebrate with 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!
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.
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.
A Guide to Sources on Magnolias
Find over 240 magnolia-related books, articles, images and more in this comprehensive magnolia bibliography from the Helen Crocker Russell Library of Horticulture.
North American Plant Collections Consortium (NAPCC) Magnolia group
San Francisco Botanical Garden is an active participant in the North American Plant Collections Consortium (NAPCC) Magnolia group. Part of American Public Gardens Association, this network of botanical gardens and arboreta work to coordinate a continent-wide approach to plant germplasm preservation, and to promote high standards of plant collections management.
San Francisco Botanical Garden docent Maggie McDowell shares her knowledge of these beautiful and ancient plants.