Magnolia trees and shrubs are members of a very large genus containing between 120 and 230 species depending on the classification system used. The genus is named after the French botanist Pierre Magnol. It is an ancient genus with ‘primitive’ flowers adapted for pollination by beetles. The petals, for example, are known as tepals because the sepals and petals are indistinguishable. This is a feature common to plants that appeared early on in the evolution of Flowering Plants. Magnolias are important horticulturally. They are now sold worldwide and many new varieties have been developed. They are grown for their beautiful flowers and their striking foliage. Two common Magnolias – the Saucer Magnolia and Star Magnolia flower in Spring and the Southern Evergreen Magnolia flowers from midsummer.
The Saucer Magnolia Magnolia x soulangiana, a deciduous shrub or small tree, is a hybrid between two Chinese species, Magnolia denudata (Yulan), which has white flowers and Magnolia liliflora, which has purple and white flowers. It was initially bred in 1820 in France by a retired cavalry officer Etienne Soulange-Bodin and was introduced to Britain in 1827. It is now the most popular and well-known form of Magnolia, widely planted in parks and gardens. It flowers in early spring, then through the summer.
The Star Magnolia Magnolia stellata is a shrub or small tree very closely related to the Magnolia Kobushi. It is native to Japan and was introduced to Britain in 1862. It has star-shaped flowers with 12 or more strap-like tepals. It is a popular magnolia for small gardens, rarely exceeding a height of 3m.
The Southern Evergreen Magnolia Magnolia grandiflora, also known as the Southern Magnolia or Bull Bay, is a large evergreen tree native to Southeastern USA. It was introduced to Britain in 1734. It is now common in warmer parts of Britain, where it was originally grown against south-facing walls. It has large, dark green leaves and beautiful white flowers.