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Campbell's magnolia

Widely thought of as a fine magnolia, this tree has spectacular flowers that can be as large as 20 cm across.

Pink flowers of Campbell's magnolia

About Kew's Campbell's magnolia

This species was first described to science in 1855 by Thomas Thomson and Joseph Hooker, son of Kew's then director William Hooker, and later Kew's director himself. Introducing it to the UK proved fraught with difficulty as young plants could not stand the climate and seeds repeatedly died in transit.

Named for Scottish botanist Dr Archibald Campbell, Magnolia campbellii was introduced to Britain in 1868. By 1895 Kew had one growing in the Temperate House. However, the only specimens known to have flowered outside the Himalaya were both in Ireland.

Take a closer look

  • There are two varieties of Campbell's magnolia, one from the western part of the species range and one from the east. In the west is Magnolia campbellii var. campbellii which has fine hairs on its shoots and flower stalks. From the east is Magnolia campbellii var. mollicomata, which can be recognised by its more densely hairy shoots and similarly covered flower stalks.
  • Botanists define a range of characteristics particular to a species. In this case, amongst others, the species is often multi-stemmed, has light grey bark and leathery leaves that appear after the flowers.

Tree biology

A native of the Himalayas, Campbell's magnolia can be found in Nepal, east to China and south to Myanmar. It most often grows at an altitude of 2,500-3,000 m. In its natural environment it can grow to 30 m but it rarely exceeds 18 m in cultivation.

Campbell's magnolia flowers in early spring between February and April, even before the leaves of the tree emerge. Each flower can be as large as 20 cm across. Its inner petals tend to stay upright, which may help protect the delicate stamens (male parts of the flower) and ovary within. The flowers vary in colour from white through pink to crimson on the outside with paler shades inside.

Cultivation and uses

Despite its mountainous origins, this magnolia is used to some shelter and relies on a mild spring. Late frosts can adversely affect flowering and temperate conditions, including deep, moist soil are important for young trees.

Perhaps because conditions for growth are not ideal in Britain, Campbell's magnolia is not a common sight, although many cultivars are available. It is mainly found in large gardens in the milder south and west of the country.

Quick facts

  • Scientific name: Magnolia campbellii
  • Family: Magnoliaceae
  • Place of origin: eastern Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and south-western China
  • Conservation status: not evaluated
  • Date planted: not recorded
  • Height: not recorded