Plants with scents as heady as incense

Enchanted Magnolias - Joy in your life...

By Alexandra Butova, Tatiana Anderson

A Foreword: Sense of Smell - a Special Sensation….

The Sense of Smell takes a special place among all the senses a human being. One might think that we sense smells as naturally as we hear sounds, feel tastes and see colors. Different people see colors in the same manner (unless they are color-blind), and while smelling and tasting have something in common, they are perceived individually: the taste one regards as too salty is distinguished by the other as quite all right and the other way round. But still there is something special about the Smell… The Sense of Smell stands apart from the other senses and this is why.

First of all, neither of the human senses is perceived so individually as the Sense of Smell. Such definitions as "aroma is a pleasant smell" or "stench is a disgusting smell" are too conditional. Even the common aromas - those obviously pleasant - may be taken by different people in a different way. Here are some examples we come across in our everyday life:

A husband is enjoying cigars with his friends in a living room after dinner. "This stinks awful! You can hardly breath in here!" his wife claims. She is reaching out to get the windows open while the men enjoyed this very smell of the exclusive tobacco.

"What a strange odor! You smell like a whore!" a husband exclaims hugging his wife. His wife is shocked, trying to explain it is the latest hot Brand perfume… The husband can relate, but still can't stand the smell or maybe just the intensity of the perfume, which might as well bring out some associations. Here is the result: wasted money for the perfume and the frustrated lover. Who wants to be associated with a slut?

Needless to say, they didn't mean to hurt each other. It's just the things one likes may seem wrong to another.

Secondly, perception of a particular smell depends on its intensity - even the most wonderful aroma may seem foul when "overdosed".

Thirdly, the Smell is some kind of "preserved memory". Nothing is as effective in bringing back the recollection of a certain moment in our life as the smell we associated with an event even if it happened decades ago.

Since long ago oriental people became aware of the Power of Smell influencing human body; they created health-improving system - Aromatherapy, which eventually became popular Worldwide. The Power of Smell since has been used long by both Christian church and numerous oriental religions and cults whose ceremonies are hard to imagine without aromatic incenses. Thus, in Orthodox Church fragrances of frankincense, myrrh and anointing oil supposedly provide closer communication with God.

Here we arrived to the subject of fragrant plants and wonderful flowers affecting all senses at once, especially the sense of smell. We'll continue with the stories of the two plant families: Magnoliaceae and Annonaceae. These exotic flowers are making our life more beautiful, adorning it with joy and pleasant aroma...

First comes the story of Magnolias.

Lady Elegance

Among landscape plants, the highly ornamental fragrant magnolias have a reputation as "aristocrats". These magnificent trees and their magnificent flowers are among the most beautiful in the world and have a long and romantic history of cultivation.

Magnolia doltsopa


Magnolia genus is one of the oldest among other plants genera, and may be called an ancient genus. Fossilized Magnolia flowers along with the bugs (main pollinators of this plant), were discovered in rocks dating around 100 million years old. Magnolias are considered to be indigenous to two main areas: the Himalayas foot of North China and the Gulf Coast of Mexico and Central America. These are the places magnolias started their victorious parade of inhabiting countries and continents. In the wild magnolias grow in dense woodlands, in forests with moist, humus-rich soils. Mainly, magnolias grow in tropical and subtropical climates (USDA zones 9-11); they are also widely spread at the Mediterranean coast of Europe, the Caucuses Coast of the Black Sea and along the Coastal Asia Minor. Many magnolia varieties are relatively hardy, some up to zone 7 or even 6. The hardy kinds grow wild in the Himalayas, Japan, China and North America. Magnolia acuminata, the Cucumber Tree, is a native of North America.

The plant was originally named by Charles Plumier, outstanding French naturalist, mathematician and artist. The name was given in honor of Pierre Magnol (1638-1715), French professor of botany and director of the Botanical Garden of Montpelier. He was one of the innovators of the current botanical scheme of classification and was the first to introduce a Plant Family to botanical taxonomy. His work inspired the Father of the Plant Classification System (Linnaean classification), the eighteenth-century botanist Carl von Linne (Linnaeus).

Magnolias are represented by over 240 species and hundreds of varieties and are highly diverse in forms - from tall trees up to 60-100 ft to various size shrubs. There are about as many deciduous species as there are evergreen species.

Magnolia grandiflora


Magnolia has rather large, oval leaves that arranged alternately. The foliage is dense, and may be evergreen or deciduous, depending on species.


Magnolias have beautiful, large flowers. Having evolved before bees appeared, the flowers developed to encourage pollination by beetles. As a result, the carpels of Magnolia flowers are tough to avoid damage. Another primitive aspect of Magnolias is their lack of distinct sepals or petals. The term "tepal" has been coined to refer to the intermediate element that Magnolia has instead. Some magnolias bloom very early in the spring before the leaves, some bloom later in the spring and still others during the summer and early fall. Asian magnolias have the most valuable flowers which become even more beautiful as the plant gets older.

Magnolia figo


The flower is followed by a pretty fruits, which are usually shaped like a cone and contain smooth brightly colored reddish or orange seeds. When the seeds are ripe, they are expelled from the fruit, but are held for a few days by short silky strands before falling to the ground.

Because of the dense, lush foliage and heavy seed production, magnolias attract wild life: songbirds, squirrels and rodents. Songbirds especially like the seeds which are surrounded by a brightly colored fleshy aril, high in fat. This provides migrating birds with a good source of energy as they migrate to the south. Evergreen species of magnolia also provide shelter for birds and wildlife that stay for the winter.

Here it is, the Magnolia Flower, ancient as the world and elegant in its simplicity…


Variety of Species

The most widespread

The first species belonging to the genus to be identified was Magnolia virginiana (Sweet Bay Magnolia), found by missionaries sent to North America in the 1680s. It is a hardy, deciduous tree and can grow up to 60 feet high in the South, but stays a small bush, only growing to 2-3 feet high further North. Fragrant white flowers up to 3 inches across appear underneath the leaves. The leaves are also fragrant, light-colored and fuzzy underneath. The fresh leaves are used for flavoring, but the taste isn't at all like that of true European Bay (Laurus nobilis). Dried leaves of Sweet Bay retain little of their fragrance. Make sure not to take more than a third of the leaves when harvesting leaves.
(USDA hardiness zone 7)

The second was another North American plant, Magnolia grandiflora (Southern Magnolia), identified early in the 18th century, also known as Bull Bay. It is native to southeastern United States: Coastal North Carolina, Central to South Florida, and West to Southeast Texas. This is the most widely spread magnolia. These are the majestic and elegant fragrant flowers up to 10" across that earned Magnolia grandiflora its fame. The fragrance is legendary and nearly impossible to describe, but there is usually a strong lemony component to the bouquet.

Even in China, the homeland of numerous evergreen magnolia species, the Magnolia grandiflora is high on the list. Famous botanist Dr. Alexander Garden wrote about it: "The finest and the most superb evergreen tree that the Earth produced". The tree can grow up to 90 feet high, but many smaller cultivars exist, including dwarf varieties. The most popular cultivar is "Little Gem" growing up to 15-20 ft tall. Besides beautiful large flowers, it has remarkable leaves with rusty-colored fluffy underneath which gave this variety a nick name of "Teddy Bear". The plant blooms when small and makes perfect "dooryard" tree.

Magnolia grandiflora grows in quite broad range of conditions: from moderate to tropical, from Washington to Orlando, from Italy to India, from Singapore to Brazil. Magnolia grandiflora is the official state flower of both Mississippi and Louisiana. It has become a symbol of support for the regions most heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina in the late summer of 2005.
(USDA hardiness zone 7-9)

Magnolia grandiflora

Magnolia soulangeana

Magnolia campbelli is a beautiful tree suited for the warmer parts of the U.S. Its leaves are large and oval and it produces large, cup-shaped, succulent flowers up to 4-5 inches in size. The color of the outside may be deep rose to crimson.
(USDA hardiness zone 8-9)

Magnolia acuminata, the Cucumber Tree, is a hardy species, native of North America. It can grow up to 100 feet high, with a round crown of branches and oblong leaves. The flowers are greenish-yellow to off-white and are followed by reddish fruits.
(USDA hardiness zone 7)

Another superb hardy species, Magnolia obovata, originated from Eastern Asia. It is a deciduous plant, with upright flowers, shaped as large tulips, with white center and pinkish edge. Magnolia obovata has many hybrids of various color intensity. The striking example is Magnolia obovata var. soulangeana or Saucer Magnolia with showy pink-violet flowers. It is the most popular of the hybrid Magnolias and the most cold and wind tolerant one. It forms a large bush or small tree, which in spring produces a cloud of white flowers with purple stain.
(USDA hardiness zone 7)

Magnolia campbellii x Magnolia liliiflora

Tropical Michelias

For quite a while botanists considered almost half of all evergreen magnolia species under separate genus Michelia. Recently, after detailed morphology studies, no scientific reasons were found for classifying those magnolias under a separate genus, and currently the name Michelia is used for specifying a separate Section of the Genera that contains evergreen Yulania magnolias. The name Michelia honors Pietro Antonio Micheli, Florentine botanist.

Among those Michelias there are many wonderful species. The most famous of them all is Michelia champaca (Joy Perfume Tree). Michelia flowers produce in great quantities. The extremely aromatic orange-colored blooms appear nearly all year round, most intensively from spring to fall and sporadically during winter time. The smell is truly heavenly. The flowers are used for obtaining essential oil for "JOY", one of the most expensive perfumes in the World.

Michelia champaca

Magnolia (Michelia) champaca, or Joy Perfume Tree, has one of the most beautiful, bright but delicate orange flowers. This species is much reduced in the wild due to selective logging for its excellent timber. In a wild it grows in tropical and subtropical areas as a medium size tree reaching in ground about 20-30 depending on conditions, and can be cultivated in a greenhouse or sunroom with artificial microclimate where it grows only 10-15 ft tall. It can be easily grown indoors as well, in a large container, turning your home into a soothing oasis.

This tree is mentioned in folk tales of India. In one of the tales the minister's daughter changed to a Champ (champaca) tree having flowers of gold. Transformation of a human body into a plant was regarded a good fortune. As this tree is regarded to be the personification of Goddess Lakshmi, it is believed to increase the wealth of the family.

One single flower of the Joy Perfume Tree, relatively small (2-3 inches), fills the air with delicately sweet fragrance. On a warm humid night, the scent can easily be enjoyed several hundred feet away. If you drive near by, you will notice the scent immediately. People and every insect you can imagine are attracted to the blooms. These are flowers you don't have to "stick your nose in" as the scent exudes from the tree. However, you really can't stop sticking your nose into a flower over and over again. Nectar insects appear frantic, driven like drug addicts, bashing into each other to get to the heart of every flower on the tree.

Planting a Michelia Tree really makes your home a sweet home. Also you could take the flower, home made natural perfume, into your car, office, restroom, and anywhere you want fragrant atmosphere. One oriental custom is to use the flowers as sweet scented decoration, such as hair-pin-flower for girls, and chest-pin-flower for ladies. The clearly veined leaf can be made into a special bookmark. If you will but forth the effort in taken care of the plant, you will be rewarded many times over via the fragrance.
(USDA hardiness zone 9-10)

Magnolia (Michelia) x Alba is a cross between Magnolia champaca and Magnolia Montana, with a fragrance similar to Magnolia champaca. It is a tall, evergreen tree with creamy white flowers 3" across with a delicious sweet fragrance resembling a juicy fruit chewing gum. The flowers start emitting the perfume early in the morning; the fragrance becoming more intense during late afternoon and by night fills in the entire space around. Michelia x Alba is a symbol of one of the largest cities in the world Shanghai, the Capital of economic zone of China.
(USDA hardiness zone 9-10)

Magnolia champaka is much hardier plant than Magnolia x Alba, this is why Magnolia x Alba is often grafted on root stock of Magnolia champaka.

Michelia x Alba

Michelia alba "Golden"

Exotic Thai hybrid Michelia x Alba "Golden" is the object of desire of many collectors. Within tree days its amazing flower with strong fragrance changes color from white to dark golden. It has somewhat compact growth habit and is a slow grower, hence can be successfully used for potting culture.
(USDA hardiness zone 9-10)

Another new interesting hybrid from Thailand is Magnolia x Alba "Cream". The plant looks basically close to Magnolia x Alba, but the flowers are deep cream to yellowish color. It is a nice collectible item for those who enjoy Michelias in their variety.
(USDA hardiness zone 9-10)

Michelia alba "Golden"

Magnolia dianica

Magnolia dianica (syn. Michelia yunnanensis) is a delightful incredibly scented shrub from South-West. A carefree evergreen shrub to 3 m or so, it bears masses of fragrant white cupped flowers over 2"across. Despite the relatively small flower size, the evergreen form and multitude of fragrant flowers makes this a desirable addition to the garden. The plant blooms early in the season, from late winter to early spring. It's likely only zone 8 plant, but possibly may survive in zone 7 if it gets enough summer heat for hardening the wood.
(USDA hardiness zone 8)

Magnolia (Michelia) doltsopa is from Himalayas and has wonderfully fragrant and long-lasting showy flowers. Prefers partial shade and does not tolerate wind. Other popular magnolias (michelias) include: Magnolia (Michelia) floribunda (syn. Magnolia compressa) with medium size 3-4" white flowers; Magnolia rajaniana and Magnolia sirindhorniae with long cream-colored petals which look very similar to Magnolia champaca.
(USDA hardiness zone 9-10)

Magnolia doltsopa

Magnolia rajaniana

Winter and Summer Bloomers

Horticulturists divide all magnolias into two groups: summer-blooming and winter-blooming.

Winter-blooming magnolias - including Michelias - originate from South-East Asia and China. In the wild these plants start blooming as soon as they wake up from their dormant state. Normally it is a period from February through March. Flowers may appear even before new leaves emerge. In the wild such magnolias bloom for a very short period of time - only a few weeks. However, in cultivation their flowering period may be extended for months by providing proper care, watering and feeding. From our experience in subtropical Florida with its chilly winter and possible short-time cool periods, the plants almost never stop blooming: from fall through winter the plants have sporadic flowers, and from spring through summer they are covered with clouds of perfumed blooms. It's a breath-taking view!

Magnolia floribunda

Magnolia stellata

An example of winter-blooming magnolia is Magnolia stellata, or Star Magnolia, is a popular deciduous tree producing masses of large mildly fragrant double flowers from February-March through April before its leaves emerge. It produces pubescent buds at the tips of the branches that look remarkably like pussy willow pussies. They open into snowy-white, star shaped flowers with at least 12 thin, delicate petals, with some cultivars having more than 30. It is native of Japan and was introduced to the United States in the 1860s when Japan was still unwilling to trade with the west, so it is one of the oldest Japanese shrubs. In its native Japan it is called Sidekobusi, "Seed of the Warrior Fist," after the shape of the interesting. With a spreading, somewhat oval crown, it makes a large shrub or small tree that may reach 15-20 ft in height with a spread of 10-15 ft when mature. Very slow growing, it can be seen in home landscapes as a medium sized shrub. In autumn the leaves turn yellow to bronze before falling. It is striking in late winter or early spring when it appears smothered in brilliant white flowers as it blooms before the leaves appear. This magnolia puts on a show at a very early age - even a 1 ft tall specimen is likely to bloom. It is spectacular when in full bloom. The graceful shape is very sculptural making it a gorgeous specimen plant that hints of exotic gardens. Planted next to a pond, this tree is breathtaking when its lovely pure white blossoms are reflected in still water, sparkling with fantastic Wedding Veil like a bride before the Altar.
(USDA hardiness zone 8)

Magnolia sirindhorniae

Magnolia x Alba Cream

Summer-blooming magnolias start flowering around April and continue flowering through fall. In warmer climates these magnolias may bloom sporadically even in winter. The flowers of summer-blooming magnolias are much bigger then those of winter-blooming magnolias. Cold hardy deciduous Magnolias produce the most reliable display of flowers in northern areas.
Example is Magnolia grandiflora with its large flowers that appear during the warm period of the year.

The brightest summer-blooming magnolia is Magnolia insignis. It is native to South-Eastern Asia - the area from Nepal and North-Eastern India to Southern China. The Latin name "insignis" means "outstanding, remarkable", and this plant is worth it! It is one of a few species of evergreen magnolias with red flowers. The hues may vary: deep pink, partially red to intensive red. Generally speaking, Magnolia insignis growth habit is somewhat similar to the one of Magnolia grandiflora. No descriptions can convey the amazing impression this wonderful tree makes when it is covered with flowers as if it was wrapped up in scarlet mantle! Refined Asian beauty, a True Royal Queen…

Magnolia insignis

Miniature Perfume Trees

When magnolias are mentioned, we picture a very tall tree with large open flowers. Most people will be surprised to find a very small one among all species of Magnoliaceae. Some magnolia species make perfect houseplants. The most suitable species for container and indoor culture are Magnolia coco, Magnolia figo, and Magnolia sieboldii.

Magnolia coco

The Coconut Magnolia, or Magnolia coco (syn. Magnolia pumila), makes an elegant container specimen. Thanks to its small size and slow growing rate Magnolia coco is an excellent indoor plant, probably the most suitable for indoor gardening among other magnolias. It is originated in Southeast Asia, probably China's Yunnan province, which borders Vietnam and Laos. It was first described by Juan de Loureiro, a Portuguese missionary and botanist working in Vietnam at the end of the 18th century, when Magnolia coco was introduced to England. However, its distribution stayed limited.
In its natural habitat, Magnolia coco is a woody, medium-size shrub or small tree 6 to 8 feet in height (do not confuse this plant with the cultivar of the well-known Magnolia grandiflora "Coco" that grows up to 15 feet tall). Indoors it can be grown as a small houseplant in a pot where it becomes only 3 to 4 feet tall and starts blooming at a young age. The flowers of Magnolia coco are single and rounded like an egg or a baby coconut (hence the name). Before the flowers open, they have a 1- to 2-inch diameter with white petals and a green sepal. Usually, the blooms last only a day, but emit an absolutely fantastic fragrance in the early morning. Though the flowers live for a short time, the blooming period may continue for almost nine months in a year. Most magnolias lack nectar, but the Magnolia coco is a nice exception - it secretes a nectar-like substance inside the flower.

Magnolia Figo

The plant doesn't require pruning since it is slow growing and has a naturally bushy shape. Ideal for patios and small gardens, this magnolia grows better with less direct sunlight. This species is tropical, and the minimum temperature should be 45-50° F, but it can survive short periods of cold with some leaf damage (leaves get dry on the edges from cold wind). If you want to have this plant look nice year-round, you should protect it: move inside when cold nights or weeks threaten. It's easy since it's a small plant and may be grown in a pot. However, if you plant it in the ground, it will be alright during a mild winter, and new leaves will grow in spring. If you decide on this wonderful magnolia for indoor growing, your home will be decorated with exotic flowers and the air will be filled with a divine perfume.
(USDA hardiness zone 9-10)

Magnolia (Michelia) figo (syn. Magnolia fuscata) or Banana Bush has also dwarf habit. It rarely grows over 4-5 ft tall, and makes a wonderful plant for both home and garden. Small creme flowers, sometimes with purplish hues are exceptional for their strong fragrance resembling the smell of ripe bananas; the flowers appear in late winter throughout spring and summer. Magnolia figo will take full sun, but looks much more attractive when grown in filtered light where the leaves turn healthy, dark green color. When the plant is young, it is very sensitive to over-watering, so make sure to provide a well drained soil for it. The leaves underneath and buds are brownish and fuzzy. Very cute plant!
(USDA hardiness zone 9-10)

Magnolia liliifera


Magnolia sieboldii

Magnolia sieboldii or Oyama (Japanese) Magnolia is native to Japan deciduous bush or small tree that in early summer will produce spectacular, charmingly pendulous flowers when it's still pretty young. They are about 3 inches across, cup shaped, pure white with pinkish to rose crimson central boss that matures into an attractive pink seed pod, extending the ornamental effect. The plant also prefers partial shade and moist, well drained soil; it is more wind tolerant than other magnolias. This tree is slow growing, reaching 15 feet high and 12 feet wide in 15 years if planted in the ground. It can be grown as a container specimen plant. Cut blossoms make an especially attractive display as a centerpiece for your table.
Magnolia sieboldii is and one of the most sought-after magnolias.
(USDA hardiness zone 7-8)

Magnolia liliifera (formerly known as Talauma candollei) is also called Magnolita or Egg Magnolia due to the shape of its flower bud which looks like a 4-5" wide egg, off-white or yellowish in color. It is one of the most valuable ornamental fragrant plants of Asia. A highly valued fragrant flower of this small tree or shrub resembles dwarf magnolia flower (Magnolia figo, Magnolia coco), but the scent is much stronger. Leaves are large, 7-9" long and 4" wide. This plant originated from South East Asia and is very cold sensitive, can not tolerate even light frost.
(USDA hardiness zone 10)

Not Only Beautiful But Useful As Well


Many magnolias are remarkable by their medicinal properties and originally were cultivated mainly for this purpose. The most distinct representative is Medicinal Magnolia - Magnolia officinalis. It is a hardy tall tree up to 70 ft with large leaves and large fragrant off-white flowers; in the wild it tolerates rocky and alkaline soils (unlike other species that prefer moist, more acidic and fertile mediums), withstands strong winds and is hardy to a mild frost. Young plants of this species are suitable for indoor and garden growing.

For over 2000 years, the pungent, aromatic bark of Magnolia officinalis is being used in the Chinese folk medicine. The bark is striped from the trunk, branches and roots. The Chinese word for this primary product is houpu. Nowadays in China magnolia bark is sold commercially by stripes of equal length (about 4 inches).

For the first time medicinal use of magnolia bark was described in the Chinese earliest systematic pharmacology of Shennong Bencao Jing (ca 100 A.D.): "Houpu is a bitter and warm non-toxic medicine used mainly for treating fits of apoplexy caused by intensification of qi energy in human body, it also cures frostbite, headaches, hypothermia, thermal shock, blood problems, musculature atony and all types of intestinal worms. Houpu regulates qi distribution in human body. The plant from which houpu is made grows in mountains and valleys."

Magnolia officinalis

Interesting facts:

  • Chinese doctors use magnolia bark for treating disorders of stomach, lungs, spleen and intestines.
  • Houpu also relieves menstrual spasms, abdominal aches, meteorism, nausea, diarrhea and indigestion.
  • Injections of magnolia bark extract are prescribed for muscular relaxation. They also ease cough and asthma attacks.
  • Chinese healers also use buds of Magnolia liliflora adding them to various herbal teas.
  • Western healers use bark and roots of other magnolia species, Magnolia virginiana, Magnolia glauca, Magnolia acuminata and Magnolia tripetata. At one time they used magnolia root for curing rheumatism; they also considered it to be a good remedy for chill and fever compared to quinine.
  • Famous perfume plant Magnolia champaca is also used in Oriental medicine. The fruit has properties as stimulant, antiseptic, tonic, stomachic, carminative, bitter and cooling.
  • Bark of popular Magnolia grandiflora is also stimulant diaphoretic and tonic, and used also for malaria and rheumatism. Most parts of this plant contain essential oil.
  • Magnolia kobus is a source of Kabushi oil, obtained from leaves and twigs; flowers contain rutin.
  • Buds of Magnolia denudata, native to China, used for seasoning rise and also considered medicinal
  • Russian healers use oil made from magnolia flowers and young leaves for treating hair loss, and apply as antiseptic on wounds.
  • Homeopathic tincture made from magnolia flowers is used as a mild remedy for asthma.
  • Scientific research proved that the magnolia bark components may have some antibacterial and antifungal properties.
  • Wood of many magnolias presents beautiful color in paneling: Magnolia campbelli, Magnolia baillonii, Magnolia grandiflora, Magnolia Champaca. It is used for making planking, tea-boxes, drums, and toys.
  • Magnolia champaca leaves, as well as flowers, yield an essential oil with odor reminiscent of Basil (Ocimum basilicum), fruits eaten, seeds contain fat. Bark and dried roots contain tannins, chewed with betel leaf and used as an adulterant of cinnamon. Flowers yield a yellow die and used medicinally as well: tonic, stomachic, carminative, used in dyspepsia, nausea, fever, and as diuretic. Oil is used in cephalagia, ophthalmia and gout. Seeds and fruit oil is good for healing cracks in feet.
  • Magnolia obovata is used in Japan for a lacquer ware, for furniture, cabinet-work, utensils and engraving. Seeds and fruit pulp yield fatty oils, flowers contain rutin.
  • Magnolia figo flowers yiekd essential oil and used in perfumery and for scenting tea.
  • Magnolia Montana wood is suitable for house-building and furniture; bark is used as a bitter tonic in fevers.


The pleasant fragrance of magnolia is insured mainly by two basic groups of agents. They are Biphenol group with basic compounds Magnolol and Honokiol and essential oil comprising mostly of Eudesmol. The Eudesmol is responsible for the intensity of the plant's fragrance. Both Biphenol and Eudesmol are active compounds providing magnolia pharmacological effect.


The entire volume of magnolia bark on the market is imported from China where magnolia is specially cultivated for such purpose. China has already been supplying its own traditional pharmacology with approximately 200 tons of magnolia bark annually; if the international demand for this product increases, the production will be expanded up to 1500 tons per year.


Magnolias are pollution tolerant plants. They can be used in urban plantings that help to improve the environment.

Magnolia Etiquette

Magnolia doltsopa

A great plant explorer E.H Wilson wrote about magnolias: "No group of trees and shrubs is more favorably known or more highly appreciated in gardens than magnolias, and no group produces larger or more abundant blossoms".
Magnolias in full bloom, especially in a street setting where there are few other plants or trees around, truly seem to triumph amongst most of other spring flowering trees.

All the above sounds so wonderful, appealing and exciting… But it's a well-known fact that beauty takes some price and should be nourished and cherished... Magnolia makes no exception.

Magnolia is a nice multi-purpose plant for all occasions - it can be grown as a shade tree, as a specimen and the center piece of your garden. A group of magnolias emitting fragrance in mixed garden of blooming annuals and perennials will provide a showy background like a theatre curtain at the Stage of Nature. However, everyone requires some care and attention.

In general, culture of magnolias is relatively simple. Once they are properly established, they require a minimum of care. Here are some little secrets of your magnolia happiness.

Magnolia requires an open space; it needs at least 4-5 hours of full sun (except for some shade-tolerant species like Magnolia coco and Magnolia figo which rather prefer filtered light). In a shady spot magnolia sheds lower branches and flowers less profusely.

Temperature and Exposure

Plant magnolias in full sun or partial shade. The more sun light, the more flower production, but many species are subject to leaf sunburn in hot areas. Most magnolias prefer full sun, except for those dwarf (miniature) varieties that are light-sensitive.

Minimum temperature depends on variety. All tropical magnolias are cold-sensitive and require cold protection when temperature drops below 40F. By protection we mean not only moving potted plant indoors. It can be planted in the ground, but in a wind-protected area. Remember, it is not the temperature itself rather than a chill wind that may kill your cold-sensitive plant. Tropical plants can be protected from occasional frost by creating an individual enclosure around it (pipe structure with some plastic film) and even using a Christmas light inside of it.

On the other hand, cold hardy magnolias are hard to make happy in hot tropical areas where there is not enough so called "resting period" of cool months. For example, Magnolia grandiflora may not take heat well, and in southernmost areas it has a common problem with leaves drying.

Tendency of hardy magnolias to loose blooms to early spring frosts is problematic. But if you avoid giving them a southern exposure, you may delay blooming long enough to get past the period of frost danger. Plant on the North side of your house or to the North of established trees to avoid southern exposure. As a bonus, the blooms look great against a green background.


Generally, magnolias are easy to transplant from containers with a minimum stress occurred. Spring is traditionally the best time to plant, just as the new leaf buds begin to open.
Evergreen magnolias are best planted in early spring.
Deciduous magnolias can be planted in autumn or early spring.
Autumn is the better time to plant in the South, while Northern gardeners should opt for spring planting.

Magnolias have a very unusual root system that spreads wider than most trees. Unlike most other trees and shrubs, the roots are largely unbranched and rope-like. They tend to girdle (circle the trunk or root ball). For this reason, magnolias tend to suffer more than many other trees if they are moved after they reach a large size, as so much of the root system is lost. Plant container-grown trees for best results.
Most magnolias can safely be moved if the trunk is less than four inches in diameter. Transplant field-grown trees in late winter or early spring. If you have time, sever some of the roots one year prior to moving your tree. Cut some of the roots just inside of the the rootball that you intend to dig, especially circling roots located at the top of the root ball or close to the trunk.. The roots will branch and help carry the tree through its establishment period in its new home. When you dig the tree to move it, dig a rootball as wide as you can manage; depth is less important than width since most of the roots are in the top foot of soil.

Be sure to mulch your magnolia and water it frequently to keep it moist for the first season after transplanting. Generally speaking, you should always apply some mulch after planting to moderate soil temperatures and moisture conditions. Magnolia benefits from good mulching: 2 to 4 inches should be spread on surface over the root system leaving free space of 3 to 5 inches around the trunk for a free air access (otherwise the trunk may rot). Mulch may consist of wood chips, pieces of bark, pine needles or just dry leaves. Mulch should cover the area of approximately 24 inches in diameter around the trunk; with the plant growing the covered area should be slowly expanded. Mulching prevents weed growth, loss of water and contributes to development of useful micro-flora which conditions the soil and improves its structure. With time, after mulch decomposes, the mulch needs to be replaced, partly or fully. Covering soil with 4 inches of mulch is the best way to keep the root system warm in areas with cool winter.

Soil and Water

Magnolias are easy adjustable to a wide range of conditions and feel good both in acid soils of tropical forests and regular garden mixes. However, too alkaline soil along with poor drainage may cause chlorosis (yellowing leaves with veins remained dark). With only a few exceptions, Magnolias won't grow well in alkaline soil, although Magnolia acuminata may, if a good amount of soil covers limestone. Try to provide a moisture-retentive soil enriched with organics. The ideal soil for most magnolias is rich, porous, acidic (pH 5.0 to 6.5) and well-drained. The soil layer should be deep enough and well-drained. The plants will benefit from peat moss or compost used at planting. Once planted, the trees shouldn't be disturbed and should be placed far enough apart to allow plenty of room to grow to their full size.

Most species tolerate moderate drought and some tolerate wet soils. Newly planted magnolias require generous watering. They start to grow slowly - the roots need some time to recover from the shock caused by transplanting. Under-watering at this state may cause the plant to die. After established, magnolias will need special watering only in dry hot conditions or in case of poor soils unable to retain natural moisture. To avoid this happen, make sure "to make a $50 hole for a $10 plant", as they say! Don't be cheap on well-drained and rich quality soil with lots of peat moss that retains moisture and provides proper soil reaction for tropical plants.

Fertile soil, rich of organic matter, regular watering and good drainage - that's all magnolia needs for a happy and long life. It will worth your efforts!


Naturally magnolias have compact crowns. They usually need little if any pruning unless you want to keep the plant very compact. If you do prune, however, do it soon after flowering to avoid cutting off buds set for the next season - this way you will provide enough time for the buds to form for the next flowering. It is recommended to cut crossing or rubbing branches and off-shoots preventing water and nutrients from reaching the top of the plant and distributing along the branches. Light pruning may be made even during winter time in order to clean branches from dry tips. If you want your small variety magnolia look like a tree rather then a bush, train it by removing the side shoots and leaving the solitary trunk without lower branches.

When necessary, pruning should be completed during the summer, but should really only be done to young plants. Removing branches from small trees will be tolerated, but removing large branches from established trees isn't safe. Wounds made in pruning should be covered with tree-wound paint. Large wounds won't heal well on old trees. Decide when the tree is small how you want it to look and begin shaping and training toward that. It is traditionally recommended that a tree is cut back after flowering to maintain a formal appearance. When you first obtained the Magnolia tree, it may had been overly pruned to give it a compact shape, but you may want it to take more of an untamed look by letting it go un-pruned up to the time of the transplant. Before moving into the ground or a bigger pot, it can grow more branches on the side that had less sun, and in the future any pruning will be to encourage either upright growth or width.

Magnolias are generally soft-wooded and may be prone to breakage in storms. The bark is thin, and easily damaged by mowers and string trimmers.


Established magnolias are to be fertilized once a year, in fall. You may use a slow-release granulated fertilizer keeping away the trunk; the nutrients from the granules will be slowly released, dissolved by rain and watering and reach the entire root system of the plant. Be careful - the fertilizer should not contact the trunk. Established, healthy magnolias may be vigorous enough and do not require annual feeding, especially if their roots are protected by organic mulch. However, to induce blooming, you should use fertilizer application anyway.

Indoor magnolias should be fed once a month, and potting mix should be slightly moist. During winter fertilization should be limited to a minimum or discontinued.


Most magnolias are generally pest-free. However, in warm and humid climate, they may be troubled by various types of scales, which can infest twigs and leaves, so it is recommended to perform a visual check underneath the leaves on regular basis to ensure healthy, lush foliage and happiness of your plant. Apply proper insecticide when needed. In severe cases, when leaves are badly damaged, they should be removed from the tree, and the plant to be treated with insecticide. After this unpleasant procedure, the new leaves sprout within a week or two.


The best methods of Magnolia propagation are by seeds, air layers and grafting (desired variety grafted onto a seedling rootstock). Cuttings are usually difficult to root except for a few species.


Magnolia seeds are usually slow to germinate. Propagation may be encouraged by using special hormone soaking (such as natural growth stimulants Epin and Cirkon) and providing a bottom heat. Warm temperatures above 85F induce germination. Seeds should be sown when they are as fresh as possible. Use only light, well-drained mix which should contain such components as peat moss, perlite, sand, coconut fiber, pine bark. Proportions may be experimented. The seeds may take as long as 18 months to germinate (especially if not fresh or under unfavorable conditions), so give them a good chance before discarding. Remember that seedlings are not necessarily true varieties since the natural hybridization may occur. Some hybrids are sterile and can be reproduced only by clones (grafting, cuttings, air-layering).


Some deciduous species, like Magnolia stellata, especially those of slender growth, can be propagated in summer by 3-4" green cuttings taken after the flower buds have formed. The shoots should have a small heel of the older wood still attached and be inserted in a bed of sand/perlite in a mist-house. As soon as they've formed roots (may take months), they should be potted individually in containers with well-drained potting mix. At this point, liquid fertilizer will be essential to encourage vegetative growth. The following spring the young plants can be planted out. Some magnolias.


Rare species and hybrids should be propagated by grafting in spring when the plant gains the most of its vigor. Grafting on a hardy seedling species has several benefits. First of all, the seedling downward root system provides the best plant establishment unlike shallow roots of a cutting or air-layer. The plant will better withstand strong winds. Besides, a hardy species used as a root stock will ensure better hardiness of the whole plant. This is the reason why, for instance, Magnolia x Alba is often grafted on Magnolia champaca seedling which is hardier, besides, Magnolia x Alba hybrid is basically sterile and can not be propagated by seeds. Magnolia acuminata and Magnolia tripetala are also popular root stocks.

Air layering

In the process of air layering, the bark is removed by cutting away about a 1" wide ring from around the circumference of the shoot. Wet sphagnum moss (or another moisture retentive medium) is bunched around and covered with plastic and sealed with aluminum foil and must be kept damp at all times. Roots will form around that ring. It may take months.

Another method is to layer the lower branches into container with a potting mix, placed under the tree or bush. The branches should be slit and pegged down in the spring, and shouldn't be bothered for two years.

Bring Joy into Your Sweet Home!

Since ancient times people have been decorating their homes with magnolia flowers, buds, branches and fruit. Look at the ripe fruit of Michelia champaca - what a gorgeous ethnic beads! In January-February, long before natural flowering of magnolia, you can force the plant into flowering on branches with buds already formed. On a warm sunny winter day cut a few branches with emerging buds using clean and sharp pruning scissors.

Split the ends of the twigs or flatten them carefully to allow maximum access of water and place them in a vase filled with warm water; add half of a teaspoon of baking soda, slaked with a few drops of lemon juice, citric acid or vinegar. By doing this you'll have the branches stay fresh for a long time. Put the vase in a filtered light till the buds start swelling. The process may take two to three weeks. When the buds gain their color, change the water and bring the vase into a well lit room - now you may watch the miracle of flowers waking up. The best species for this project are Magnolia soulangeana and Magnolia stellata.

If you are lucky to live in a warm tropical climate, simply plant magnolia in your garden!

Magnolia stellata

Magnolias have so many advantages. The nature itself presented us with this beautiful gift which in the age of a worldwide commerce is called JOY - famous perfume "Joy" based on wonderful fragrance of Magnolia champaca.

In a hot and humid night flowering magnolia fills in the entire space, attracting and charming every living creature with its fragrance. If you happen to drive by and suddenly feel its unique delicate fragrance, you'll be tempted to stop and pick one of the flowers and then smell it, and smell it, and smell it… you won't be able to help it!

As we mentioned before, many magnolia species are suitable for growing indoors. Even large size species may be kept indoors at young age. When the plant becomes too big to fit the room, plant it in the garden or in a large container on the deck or patio. Whatever magnolia species you choose to grow, its warm atmosphere and aroma will make your place special as you invited Lady Elegance in her own person.

Various species of magnolias, including rare and tropical kinds, can be purchased from our store.


"The World of Magnolias" by Dorothy Callway, Timber Press, 1994
"Thai Magnoliaceae" Atlas of plants of Magnolia Family, 2005
"Tropical Magnolias" by Richard Figlar
"Magnolias: A Gardener's Guide" by Jim Gardiner, 2000
"Scents of Time" by Edwin Morris, 1999
"The Tropical Look" by Robert Riffle, 1998
"Religious and Useful Plants of Nepal and India" by Trilok Majupuria, 1989
"The Useful Plants of India" by Krishnan Marg, 1992
"Fruit Drug Plants of India" by Doli Das and V.S. Agarwal, 1991
"A Field Guide to Forest Trees of Northern Thailand" By Simon Gardner, Pindar Sidisunthorn, Vilaiwan Anusarnsunthorn, 2000