Scientific name: Magnolia sprengeri
Plant type: Deciduous tree
Bloom: White to rosy red with streaks of purple
Environment: Full sun in well-drained soil
Uses: Specimen plant
Mesoamerican Cloud Forest – 14A
Magnolia sprengeri is a large tree native to central and southeastern China. A member of the Magnoliaceae family, one of the earliest diverging angiosperms, or flowering plants, fossils of Magnolia sprengeri have been dated to the early Pliocene (5.3-2.6 million years ago). Today, M. sprengeri is found in montane forests and thickets in its native range at elevations between 1,300 and 2,400 m.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List considers Magnolia sprengeri to be of Least Concern in terms of its conservation status. The 2014 report notes that though there is a large population across China, this population is very fragmented. The Chinese Species Red List, however, lists the species as Vulnerable due to deforestation and habitat fragmentation. Additionally, M. sprengeri is a widely used plant in traditional Chinese medicine, where the flower buds are harvested for a variety of medical treatments aimed at various ailments. This has affected wild populations causing population decline across the wide native range of the species, as populations are not able to regenerate without new flowers.
Magnolia sprengeri will grow to heights of approximately 70 ft and has a lifespan of 50 to 150 years. In the winter, the hairy, gray flower buds will open up to large white to pink flowers sometimes streaked with a dark purple. M. sprengeri is a deciduous tree, meaning that it loses its leaves seasonally, and a precocious bloomer. Precocious blooming occurs when the flowers bloom before the leaves emerge. This is a mechanism used by plants in order to be able to expend energy and resources just on the flowers, their means of reproduction, before expending energy on the production of leaves. This also ensures that leaves will not block sun from the developing buds and emerging flowers. Here in San Francisco, due to the mild climate, M. sprengeri does not always lose all of its leaves and you will see its lovely blooms alongside the leaves.
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text and Profile by Victoria Stewart. Photos by Saxon Holt and David Kruse-Pickler