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Featured Plant

Magnolia campbellii


Scientific Name: Magnolia campbellii

Family: Magnoliaceae

Plant TypeTree

Environment: Sun or partial shade; prefers deep, rich, well-drained soil and a location sheltered from wind. Late frosts can damage opening buds.

Bloom: Mid-December to March

Uses: Large tree to 80' tall by 40' wide

Other: Young trees will not produce flowers for about 20 years; grafted trees 12-15 years. Discovered in Bhutan and named in honor of Dr. Archibald Campbell, a British political resident at Darjeeling



Magnolia campbellii

Look high on the skyline of the Arboretum, east or west, and you'll see the flamboyant pink and white of Magnolia campbellii mingling with the evergreen treetops of cypress and pine. As early as December, they begin to bloom, their distinctive "cup and saucer" shaped flowers appearing before the leaves. Magnolia campbellii is native to the Himalayas, growing at altitudes of 8,000–12,000 feet and reaching over 150 feet in height.

The name 'cup and saucer' magnolia comes from the flower form where the innermost 4 tepals remain erect (the cup) to form a covering over the stamens and carpels, while the outer lateral tepals appear stiff and are positioned at a 90 degree angle (the saucer).

Considered to be one of the earliest flowering plants with fossils dating back 100 million years, magnolias were spread throughout the northern hemisphere before the latest ice age, along with ginkgos and redwoods. Flowering plants co-evolved with insects, resulting in tremendous diversity of both groups. Magnolias are pollinated mostly by beetles, one of the earth's oldest known insect groups. The stamens (male) and carpels (female) of magnolias are spirally arranged on an elongated axis and are encircled by tepals (a combination of petals and sepals) of uniform color. This arrangement is characterized as a very primitive floral structure.

Today, of the over 200 species of magnolia, 80% occur in Asia. The remaining species can be found in the Americas, including the Caribbean. Magnolias grow in climates ranging from temperate to tropical. San Francisco's chilly fog and temperate ocean climate provides an environment where many of these species can thrive. We have 11 mature specimens of M. campbelliispread throughout the Garden including the very first of this species to bloom in the United States in 1940, located in the Camellia Garden (Bed 58A).

Photos by Docent Joanne Taylor; text by Docent Kathy McNeil; profile by Associate Curator David Kruse-Pickler


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