MAGNOLIA, L., the typical genus of the order Magnoliaceae, named from Pierre Magnol, professor of medicine and botany at Montpellier. It contains about fourteen species, distributed in Japan, China, and the Himalayas, as well as in North America and Mexico (De Candolle, Prod., i. 79 ; Bentham and Hooker, Gen. Pl., i. 18; A. Gray, Gen. Ill., xxiii., xxiv.).
Magnolias are trees or shrubs with evergreen or deciduous foliage. They bear conspicuous, and often large, fragrant, white, rose, or purple flowers. The sepals are three in number, the petals six to twelve, in two to four series of three in each, the stamens and carpels being numerous. The fruit consists of a number of follicles which dehisce (contrary to the rule) along the outer edge to allow the scarlet or brown seeds to escape, but which are suspended by a long slender thread. Of the Old-World species, the earliest in cultivation appears to have been M. Yulan, Desf. (conspicua, Salisb.), of China, of which the buds were preserved, as well as used medicinally and to season rice (Pickering, Chron. Hist. of Pl., p. 600). It, together with M. fuscata, Andr., was transported to Europe in 1789 (Paxtons Bot. Dic.) and thence to North America, and is now cultivated in the middle States. Of the Japanese magnolias, M. Kobus, DC., and the purple-flowered M. obovata, Thim., were met with by Kaempfer in 1690. They were introduced into England in 1709 and 1804 respect-ively. The species M. pumila, Andr., the dwarf magnolia, from the mountains of Amboyna, is nearly evergreen, and bears deliciously scented flowers. It was introduced in 1786. The Indian species are three in number, M. globosa, H. f. et T., allied to M. conspicua of Japan; M sphenocarpa, Roxb., and the most magnificent of all magnolias, M. Campbellii, H. f. et T., which forms a conspicuous feature in the scenery and vegetation of Darjiling. It was discovered by Dr Griffith in Bhutan. It is a large forest tree, abounding on the outer ranges of Sikkim, 80 feet high, and from 6 to 12 feet in girth. The flowers are 6 to 10 inches across, appearing before the leaves. They vary from white to a deep rose colour (Hook. fil., Ill. Him Pl., pls. iv. and v.).
The first of the American species brought to Europe (in 1688, by Banister) was M, glauca, L. It is found in low situations near the sea from Massachusetts to Louisiana,more especially in New Jersey and Carolina. In 1712 Catesby visited Virginia and found M. acuminata, L., the so-called cucumber tree, from the resemblance of the young fruits to small cucumbers. It ranges from Pennsylvania to Carolina. The wood is yellow, and used for bowls; the flowers are rather small. It was introduced into England in 1736. He also found in umbrella, Lam. (tripetala, L.), called the umbrella tree. The flowers are very large, white, and highly scented. It was brought to England in 1752. M. pyramidata, Bart., discovered by Bartram in 1773, is a native of the western parts of Carolina and Georgia. The most beautiful species of North America is M. grandiflora, L., discovered by Catesby in 1719 in South Carolina and Florida, and introduced into England in 1734. It grows a straight trunk 2 feet in diameter, and upwards of 70 feet high, bearing a profusion of large powerfully lemon-scented creamy-white flowers. In England it is customary to train it against a wall; and the original species is surpassed by the Exmouth varieties, which originated as seedlings at Exeter from the tree first raised in England by Sir John Colliton, and which flower much more freely than the parent plant. The remaining North-American species are M. auriculata, Lam., M. macrophylla, Michx., and M. cordata, Michx. The Mexican species is M. mexicana, DC. The tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera, L., frequently cultivated in England, is also a member of the same family. It is the sole species, and is a native of North America.
For a description of the principal species of magnolia under cultivation see Hemsleys Handbook of Hardy Trees, &c., p. 24 ; Loudons Arboretum, vol. i. p. 260.