The magnolias are coming

All around the garden flashes of colour are finally emerging after the seemingly everlasting winter. Most showy of all are the magnolias, furiously flowering for all they're worth.

01 Apr 2010

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Magnolia campbellii

The glorious flowers of Magnolia campbellii (Image: RBG Kew)

One of the most magnificent magnolias is the pink tulip tree, or Campbell's magnolia (Magnolia campbellii), which in the Himalayas can reach the heady heights of 50 m. It grows at an altitude of 2,500 - 3,000 m and is found in Nepal, east to China and south to Myanmar. However, despite its mountainous origins, this magnolia is used to some shelter and relies on a relatively mild spring.

Late frosts can adversely affect the chances of flowering and temperate conditions, including deep, moist soil, are important for young trees to become established. Named after the Scottish botanist Dr Archibald Campbell, it was introduced to Britain in 1868 and in cultivation rarely exceeds 20 m.

The glorious flowers, which appear before the leaves emerge in spring, can be as large as 20 cm across and create an unforgettable sight. This year they are particularly good due to the consistently cold weather which has prevented the buds from swelling too soon.

This is one of the earliest flowering species, but many of the other magnolias are in plump bud, ready to surge forth. Other species worth waiting for are Magnolia sieboldii subsp. sinensis in the Woodland Garden and Magnolia kobus in the main collection.

The main magnolia collection can be found near the Azalea Garden but there are plenty of specimens planted around the garden, lighting up the surrounding areas. 

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