At Westonbirt, The National Arboretum we have 30 species of magnolias, the biggest of which reaches over 24m (80ft).
Named after a French physician and botanist Pierre Magnol, there are some 120 deciduous and evergreen species of magnolia growing around the world, the majority in temperate regions. Magnolias were among the first flowering plants to evolve and their flowers provide a succession of spring colour from late March onwards.
Since most prefer a deep, fertile soil, our best examples are found around Savill Glade, but you can use the Westonbirt Interactive Map to find individual specimens. Here are a few examples to be found:
Himalayan tulip tree, Magnolia campbellii
Magnolia campbellii and its cultivars are amongst the earliest magnolias to flower in spring. Native to the Himalaya from eastern Nepal, Sikkim and Assam east to southwestern China, it is a medium to large deciduous tree. The flowers are very large and vary from white to dark pink. They appear before the leaves from late March onwards.
Also known as the Oyama magnolia this understorey tree is native to China, Japan and Korea. Throughout late May and June it bears white flowers which unfold to reveal delicate bright red stamens (the male part of the flower) perched atop a maroon centre. Additional flowers appear sporadically through the summer months and are followed by egg-shaped fruits that turn red in the autumn, in contrast to the golden yellow foliage.
Goddess Magnolia , Magnolia sprengeri 'Diva'
Perhaps the most famous magnolia at Westonbirt (and the tallest at around 24m) is the Champion Magnolia Sprengeri Diva, which grows close to Savill Glade. Its dark pink flowers are well worth coming to see from April onwards.
Umbrella magnolia, Magnolia tripetala
Fossilised remains of this species have been found dating back 65 million years. In summer it is not difficult to see how this species gained its common name - the umbrella magnolia - as its enormous diamond-shaped leaves may be 30cm (12 inches) or more long. The white flowers are at their best from early June. Our best specimens can be found in Savill Glade, but take a look at the Westonbirt Interactive Map to find more.
M. wilsonii is a spreading deciduous shrub with narrowly-ovate leaves. It produces nodding, cup-shaped white flowers up to 10cm in width with crimson stamens. Discovered in 1904 by Ernest Wilson in China, it bears white flowers from mid May.
Native to Japan, M. kobus is another plant discovered by Ernest Wilson. It is one of the smaller species of magnolia, often becoming a large multi-stemmed shrub of no more than 8 to 10m in height.
The specimens at Westonbirt usually look at their best from early April.
Saucer magnolia, Magnolia x soulangeana
This hybrid is sometimes known as the saucer magnolia on account of its prolific goblet shaped flowers which often cover the leafless branches in early April. Each bloom is composed of six waxy petals and range in diameter from 8 to 15cm (3 - 6 inches) when fully opened into 'saucer position'.
It is perhaps the best magnolia for general garden planting being tolerant of a range of soil types and is available in a number of interesting cultivars. These vary both in their mature size and flower colour from deepest purple through palest pink to pure white.