Daily Flower Candy: Magnolia doltsopa

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Magnolia doltsopa: Michelia doltsopa, sweet michelia

There are trees and then there are trees. Queens among their ranks are the magnolias; strong, majestic, ebullient beauties that grace our gardens with buxom, florid flowers each spring. A well-grown magnolia in full bloom is a thing of breathtaking beauty, so ravishing that one can scarcely believe such a divine creation actually exists. Set against a clear blue sky the flowers appear like tender water lilies floating on a pond. On stormy days the petals flutter and flap like white doves flying towards the heavens.

Magnolia (Michelia) doltsopa, Burncoose, Cornwall, March 2016

In case I have not made myself clear, I have quite a “thing” for magnolias. In common with unicorns and rainbows they possess an ethereal, fantastical, other-worldly quality which appeals to the escapist in me. The difference is they really exist (sorry to disappoint any readers who believe in unicorns), which is a good thing for us gardeners. But what is yet rarer and perhaps more mythical than a magnolia? Well, a michelia. These beautiful evergreen trees were, until recently, classed as distinct from magnolias, but are now part of the same, ancient family. Most of us would find it hard to tell a michelia flower apart from a magnolia, but the leaves of a michelia are typically everygreen and the flower buds tend to form in clusters rather than singly at the tips of the branches. Michelia blooms are delicately infused with a scent reminiscent of freesias.

Magnolia (Michelia) doltsopa
Photo credit: Karen Armstrong

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to see forests of Magnolia doltsopa growing on the mountainsides of Bhutan (see below). Here, in the most gentle of Himalayan nations, this tree was once over-harvested for its precious wood, so to see it growing in the wild was very special. Happily one doesn’t have to venture to the other side of the globe to see Magnolia doltsopa. My first two photographs were taken this March in the woodland garden at Burncoose in Cornwall. The nursery on the same site offers no fewer than eleven different michelias (Burncoose still use the old name in their catalogues), including Michelia laevifolia, Michelia maudiae and pink Michelia “Fairy Magnolia Blush”, which will sound faintly ridiculous when it’s re-labelled Magnolia “Fairy Magnolia Blush”. Still, I can’t enough of magnolias, so the more the better.

Gracious, evergreen, floriferous and compact when young, Magnolia doltsopa deserves to be better known and more widely grown. Plants can be clipped to create topiary or a hedge, and specimens will grow very happily in a large container. Planted in rich, well-drained soil where the tree will catch the morning sun, Magnolia doltsopa will only take 2-3 years to reach full potential and after that flower profusely every spring. They are hardy in much of the UK although, inevitably, late frosts may damage a few blooms. You may not be able to catch a unicorn, or find the end of a rainbow, but you can grow Magnolia doltsopa, so put your order in for one this spring.

Burncoose Nurseries have 2-3 litre potted plants available for delivery from May 2016 priced at £25. Magnolia doltsopa and its cultivars are also widely available in New Zealand.

Michelia doltsopa, near Trongsa, Bhutan, April 2013


Categories: Daily Flower Candy, Flowers, Foliage, Photography, Plants, Trees and Shrubs

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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10 comments On "Daily Flower Candy: Magnolia doltsopa"

  1. We have a Magnolia ‘Susan’ in or garden that has the most fabulous deep pink blooms and my favourite thing about it is its scent – it’s gorgeous, like a heady rose.

      1. That’s a lovely idea! The one we have here belonged to the previous owners and they were loathe to leave it behind as, from what I recall, it’d been a wedding or anniversary present,but it’s in the soil and well-established. It’s beautiful.

    1. I think, as with most plants grown in a pot, the answer would very much depend on the size of the pot. In London we grow a fig and a bay in 1m diameter pots and they are 180cm tall. Without regular pruning they would be larger. Personally I think potting or topiarising a michelia would be a pity as they are such magnificent natural trees, but perhaps planted in a large terracotta urn in a formal garden setting a pair could be lovely. Perhaps other readers will have some advice for you too. Have a great weekend.

  2. Well, Frustrated Gardener – I can’t believe you’ve done it again. Spoke my mind, that is, at precisely the time when I was thinking of the same thing. I’ve been reading your blog for more than a year now and have slowly worked my way through your back catalogue (not finished yet, so – from my perspective – still joys to be had and surprises to be discovered 🙂 ).Last summer I started my own blog, planned long before for when my small ones would leave me a little more time. And time and time again I found myself sharing your sentiments and favourites, or having visited the same places etc.
    And now: On the very same day you wrote this piece I was cutting several paragraphs about Michelias in a post on Caerhays because I felt it would make it too long. I might still post them when my own tiny M. laevifolia comes into flower in a few weeks’ time (- and if by any chance you should happen to come across that post you’ll know I wont have “shoplifted” the idea -) because, as you write, they are so ravishingly beautiful and should be grown much more widely.
    I absolutely envy you – in a non-competitive way – for having seen a whole forest of them! And I’m surprised and excited to learn M. doltsopa will live happily in a container. You don’t know what you have just done… 🙂 Or may be not: As you wrote above, it’s like putting an eagle in a cage – a true pity. Did you go for a Michelia yourself? And if so, which one? Have a lovely weekend, Dan!

  3. Naturally I do indeed believe in unicorns, I doubt if this surprises you. This tree is indeed a beauty and you are so lucky to have seen it in Bhutan, somewhere I would love to go. I think they may have unicorns there too.

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