As I’ve mentioned previously, I was recently at the South China Botanical Garden in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, for an international symposium on the Magnoliaceae. Following the symposium’s conclusion, I went on a tour of southern Yunnan Province in order to see magnolias in the wild. Together with my colleague Andrew Hill, Curator-Horticulturist of the David C. Lam Asian Garden, and about 20 other scientists and magnolia enthusiasts, we saw a huge range of magnolia species in the wild and in botanical gardens. This photograph, however, is of a plant in the Asian Garden here at UBC.
Magnolia insignis is an evergreen tree growing to 30 metres in the wild. The fragrant flowers are about 12 centimetres across when fully open, and they are composed of 9 to 12 tepals. The species is sporadically distributed throughout southwestern China, Indochina, and the Himalayas between 900 and 2600 metres; it is, moreover, remarkably cold hardy (to at least Zone 7). To be honest, a few of us were wondering how last winter, with its brutal temperatures and snow, would affect the health of our Asian magnolias. Predictably, many of our Magnolia campbellii trees lost all of their flower buds, and some even suffered branch death on their limbs; happily, however, nearly all of our mostly untried Asian evergreen species came through with flying colours.
There is considerable debate about names of magnolias and the ranking of the various groups within Magnoliaceae. Like the majority of North American scientists, we are now using the conservative two-genus concept championed by Richard Figlar and Hans Nooteboom, which includes only Magnolia and Liriodendron. There is an elucidation of this system on the Magnolia Society web site, here. In China, a variety of systems have been proposed, and the one adopted in the recently published Magnolias in China follows the system of the revered Chinese magnolia taxonomist Liu Yu Hu, which elevates a number of sub-genera and sections to generic level. In that account, there are 8 separate genera (not including Liriodendron), and the species pictured here is classified under Manglietia Blume.