Tree to 20 m. Bark grey and smooth. Vegetative buds and young twigs reddish brown pubescent. Leaves evergreen; leaf blade thin and leathery, 12–15 × 2–5 cm, narrowly obovate to narrowly obovate-elliptic, upper surface dark glossy green and glabrous, lower surface pale green to glaucous and glabrous, or with appressed brown hairs when young, 12–14 secondary veins on each side of the midrib; margins entire; base cuneate; apex rounded to shortly acuminate; petiole 1–1.5 cm long, pubescent, stipular scar 3–5 mm. Flowers terminal, peduncle curved outwards or pendulous. Tepals 9–11; the outer three usually green, elliptic and thinner, 4–5 × 2.5 cm; middle 3 tepals obovate-elliptic, 5–5.5 × 2.5–3 cm, fleshy; inner tepals pure white, obovate-spathulate, 4–4.5 × 1.5–2 cm, fleshy. Stamens pinkish red,~1 cm long; gynoecium sessile, 1.5–2 cm, with 20–28 carpels, glabrous. Fruit ovoid, 4–5 cm long; carpels mature carpels tuberculate, apex shortly beaked, 1.6–2.2 cm long, and dehiscing along the dorsal suture or both the dorsal and ventral sutures. Flowering May to June, fruiting September to October (China). (Xia, Liu & Nooteboom 2008; Chen & Nooteboom 1993).
Distribution China N Guangdong, Guangxi, SE Guizhou, S Hunan, SE Yunnan Vietnam N
Habitat Mixed evergreen forest, 500–1700 m.
USDA Hardiness Zone 7b-9
RHS Hardiness Rating H4
Conservation status Least concern (LC)
The leaves of Magnolia conifera are thick and a shiny dark green, reminiscent of those of M. grandiflora, while the pendulous white flower with its deep red stamens is a little suggestive of M. sieboldii (Figlar 2008). This is however a member of Section Manglietia, still with ‘experimental’ status in Western gardens, and with problems over the identification of cultivated material.
Drawings of the ripe fruit (ovoid with spreading, well spaced, elongated carpels) show passing resemblance to a small, open pine cone, suggesting how Dandy’s specific epithet came about (Chen & Nooteboom 1993). Locally common in the wild, the timber is used in furniture making, and the bark medicinally; it is also planted as an ornamental in southern China (Xia, Liu & Nooteboom 2008; Chen & Nooteboom 1993).
Successive batches of seed sent from Nanjing Botanic Garden to Piroche Plants, British Columbia in the 1990s as Manglietia chingii (i.e. Magnolia conifera var. chingii) have given rise to a ‘congested’ form of Magnolia insignis, recognisable by its naked leaf buds at the tips of the shoots (S. Hogan in Grimshaw & Bayton 2009). This casts doubt over many specimens growing in the Pacific Northwest. On the other hand, seed distributed from the Kunming Botanical Institute as Manglietia ovoidea has proved to be Magnolia conifera, with long-petiolate, elongated leaves and pendulous flowers: plants grown in Oregon have leaves that emerge ‘a pleasing shell-pink’ (Hogan 2008). All this confusion does not help assessments of garden performance.
Manglietia chingii Dandy
Manglietia conifera subsp. chingii (Dandy) J. Li
Petiole longer, 2–3 cm; stamens longer, 1.5–2 cm (Kumar 2006).
Taxonomic note Flora of China (Xia, Liu & Nooteboom 2008) and Chen & Nooteboom (1993) do not accept this variety; both Plants of the World Online (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew 2021) and Magnolia Society International (Figlar 2012) do.
Dick Figlar (in Grimshaw & Bayton 2009) believes that most cultivated M. conifera belong here, if one accepts its status as a distinct variety.
Specimens from wild-origin seed have grown well and flowered at Tregrehan, Cornwall, one planted in 2000 reaching 9 m × 50 cm in 14 years (The Tree Register 2021). It has also done well for Mike Robinson in East Sussex (Robinson, Marston & Foster 2008).