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Featured Plant

Magnolia dawsoniana


Scientific Name: Magnolia dawsoniana and M. dawsoniana 'Clarke'

Common Name: Dawson's Magnolia

Family: Magnoliaceae

Plant Type: Tree

Environment: Direct sun or partial shade; prefers deep, rich well drained soil and medium levels of water. Has low drought tolerance and low flood tolerance; Hardy to -5 F; Looks best in early Spring.

Bloom: M. dawsoniana January – March; M. dawsoniana 'Clarke' December – January; distinctive drooping of tepals after flowers open; blooms after 15-20 years.

Uses: Large shrub to pyramidal tree to 65 feet in 45-50 years.

Other: Endangered in its native habitat in Sichuan, China.



Magnolia dawsoniana

This rare species is native to the mountains of western Sichuan Province in China, growing at elevations from 4600-8200 feet. It is listed as endangered in the China Species Red List, a regional accounting that assesses the risk of species extinction.

Magnolia dawsoniana was first introduced to the West in 1908 and named after Jackson T. Dawson, the first superintendant of Harvard University's Arnold Arboretum. This early-flowering deciduous shrub or tree can reach up to 65 feet with a broad pyramidal outline. It can take 45-50 years to reach its ultimate height and 15-20 years before flowering.

The large fragrant flowers which appear before the leaves, can be up to 10 inches across and are white to light pink, suffused with a rich rosy red. The tepals (undifferentiated petals and sepals) of this magnolia, are among the most distinctive of Asiatic species. They droop soon after opening and hang limply, resembling flags blowing in the wind.

W.B. Clarke & Co. Nursery of San Jose, California distributed plants that first flowered simultaneously in 1960 in the garden of Dr. Albert C. Daniels in Ross, California, in Golden Gate Park and at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Our oldest trees of the species are just starting to bloom this season, and can be seen in the Mesoamerican Cloud Forest and the Temperate Asia Garden.


Our earliest bloomer and most showy Dawson's magnolia is the cultivar, Magnolia dawsoniana 'Clarke', found growing in the Rhododendron Garden. It is currently in full bloom with the added benefit of the flowers mostly located at eye level.

Introduced by W. B. Clarke Nursery of San Jose, M. dawsoniana 'Clarke' is generally agreed to be the finest cultivar of M. dawsoniana available. It is highly regarded in western North America for its early and prolific flowering and its hardiness. The tepals of 'Clarke' are medium pink with a darker base, fading to light pink. The flowers resemble cattleya orchids.

Text by Mona Bourell. Photos by Mona Bourell and David Kruse-Pickler.


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