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mag­no­lias usher spring into

Mag­no­lias have long been trea­sured for their strik­ing f low­ers, which, de­pend­ing on the coun­try they’re from, are re­garded as sym­bols of pu­rity, no­bil­ity and beauty.

But they’re also loved for their fra­grance and fo­liage. Fos­sils dat­ing back 100 mil­lion years in­di­cate that mag­no­lias were one of the first flow­er­ing plants. Hail­ing from east and south Asia and North and Cen­tral Amer­ica, only a few of the many species are available in South Africa, but for­tu­nately among them are a num­ber of new, in­ter­est­ing cul­ti­vars. They are fairly slow grow­ing so look for well-es­tab­lished plants with a good sized root ball.

The del­i­cate, fra­grant flow­ers of mag­no­lias are a re­minder that spring is on its way


These small de­cid­u­ous trees or mul­ti­stemmed shrubs orig­i­nated in China

and are known as tulip trees be­cause of the shape of their f low­ers. These stand up­right on bare branches from late win­ter to spring and come in shades of dusky pink, pur­ple, lilac and rosy mauve. They are slow grow­ing, but f lower from a young age.

: They per­form bet­ter in cooler, Where moist ar­eas and are not happy in the sub­trop­ics. They need pro­tec­tion from hot af­ter­noon sun. In frost-prone gar­dens, plant in a pro­tected area to avoid frost dam­age to the f low­ers.

: About 4–6m high.


: The Lit­tle Girl se­ries, Good to know bred in the 1950s, is a cross be­tween

M. lili­iflora ‘Ni­gra’ and M. stel­lata ‘Rosea’. They are smaller plants, 2–4m high, with dainty flow­ers. These ap­pear a few weeks later than M. stel­lata and M. x soulangeana so they are less prone to frost dam­age. Limited stocks of ‘Ricki’, ‘Pinkie’ and ‘Su­san’ are available.


This open, some­what loose-limbed shrub or small tree from Ja­pan is an ab­so­lute de­light in early spring when dainty, multi-petalled, star-like flow­ers ap­pear on its bare branches. These are fol­lowed by fresh green leaves, which darken with the ap­proach of sum­mer.

: Al­though cold hardy in frost Where ar­eas, place it in a warm shel­tered po­si­tion to pre­vent the flow­ers be­ing frosted. It’s best in a mixed bor­der among ev­er­greens.

: Al­though it can reach over 3m

Size high, it usu­ally grows to about 1–2m.

: Apart from a white form Good to know there is also one with dusky pink petals, which starts flow­er­ing at an early age.


The f low­ers of this tree ap­pear in late spring to early sum­mer. Bold and showy, the six-petalled blooms open white and turn into creamy white, waxy saucers. They show up well against the large dark green, leath­ery leaves, which are glossy on top and felt-like and brown un­der­neath.

: These im­pos­ing ev­er­green trees Where from the south eastern states of the

USA, thrive in warm gar­dens es­pe­cially in the sub­trop­ics. In cool ar­eas, plant them in a shel­tered po­si­tion. As they have ex­ten­sive sur­face roots and can cast fairly dense shade, they are best in large gar­dens away from houses and walls.

: Slow grow­ing to a height of 4–6m, Size but can ex­ceed 10–15m.

: Named se­lec­tions of Good to know

M. grandiflora, which in­clude ‘Crys­tal’ and ‘Sa­muel Som­mer’ are more suit­able for sub­ur­ban gar­dens and can also be grown in large con­tain­ers. They’ll tol­er­ate salt-laden winds.


This com­pact tree f low­ers on and off through­out sum­mer. Its glossy dark green leaves have an in­ter­est­ing rusty un­der­side.

: It makes a good screen or Where in­for­mal hedge placed at the back of a bor­der.

: About 5–7m high and 4–5m wide. Size

: It’s frost tol­er­ant

Good to know once es­tab­lished.


Known pre­vi­ously as Miche­lia figo, this small, com­pact shrub or tree is a na­tive of China and was re­clas­si­fied as a magnolia in 2006. The small, waxy, cup-shaped f low­ers hid­den in the leaves have a strong fruity fra­grance at night. The plum petals open to re­veal a creamy yel­low cen­tre.

: Its glossy leaves make it an Where at­trac­tive screen and hedge.

: About 3–4m high.


: It f low­ers in sum­mer Good to know and pro­duces f low­ers from a young age.


SOIL: Mag­no­lias thrive in rich, moist soil to which a gen­er­ous quan­tity of com­post has been added.

PO­SI­TION: They pre­fer sun and will take some shade; in hot in­land gar­dens, plant de­cid­u­ous species in the shade of trees or on the cooler, south side of the house.

WATER: Most re­quire reg­u­lar water de­spite their leath­ery leaves, al­though ‘Lit­tle Gem’ is fairly water wise. Good drainage is es­sen­tial.

FER­TILISE: Feed in spring and sum­mer with an or­ganic slow-re­lease fer­tiliser. CARE: Mag­no­lias pre­fer slightly acidic soil, so add oak leaf and pine nee­dle mulches, es­pe­cially if the soil is al­ka­line, and dig in old teabags and cof­fee grounds. They sel­dom need prun­ing; some even re­sent it. They are rel­a­tively pest-free.

FLOW­ER­ING SEA­SON: Late win­ter through to sum­mer.

SIZE: 1–15m high.

FROST TOL­ER­ANCE: Most mag­no­lias are frost tol­er­ant, but in cold ar­eas, po­si­tion those that bloom in late win­ter where they’ll be pro­tected from frost.

THIS PAGE, FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: The blooms of tulip mag­no­lias have a twotone ap­pear­ance. Tulip mag­no­lias flower on bare branches, pro­vid­ing wel­come in­ter­est at the end of win­ter.

THIS PAGE, CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT:De­cid­u­ous star magnolia has pas­tel pink blooms. The ex­tremely fra­grant flow­ers of Magnolia grandiflora, the South­ern or Bull Bay magnolia tree, mea­sure 20cm across and show up well against the fo­liage. M. grandiflora of­ten pro­duce cone-like fruits, which turn or­ange and then red be­fore re­leas­ing their red seeds in late sum­mer.

THIS PAGE, CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT:The leaves of both Magnolia grandiflora ‘Rus­set’ and ‘Lit­tle Gem’ have vel­vet brown un­der­sides. The fra­grant flow­ers of Magnolia figo are of­ten over­looked as they’re hid­den among the leaves.The white waxy petals of M. grandiflora.

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