Plant Collector: Magnolia Lanarth

Magnificent in its purple splendour - Magnolia Lanarth

Magnificent in its purple splendour - Magnolia Lanarth

It is magnolia time and Lanarth is always one of the early bloomers and still sets the standard for pure stained glass purple colouring. We have yet to see a modern hybrid match the colour, flower form and size of Lanarth. So it is a bit of a shame that it is hard to propagate, so rarely offered and not that easy to establish so there can be a fall-out rate amongst those that are produced. On top of that, it takes a few years to flower (sometimes a decade or so), it makes a fairly large tree and the flowering can be short-lived. Get a storm at the wrong time and the season is pretty much over not long after it began. But in full bloom, it is a magnificent sight and that is why it is a collector’s plant.

Its full name resembles a stud animal – Magnolia campbellii var. mollicamata Lanarth – but it is usually just referred to as Lanarth, sometimes with the mollicamata in front to impress. Lanarth refers to where the seed was raised which was a garden in Cornwall. Intrepid plant collector George Forrest collected the seed in North West Yunnan in China back in 1924 where it was growing at a fair altitude of over 3000 metres. Only three seeds were grown and Lanarth was selected as the best of them. The usual pink and white campbellii magnolias come from the more westerly areas of China, Tibet and Burma whereas the mollicamata variants come from the more easterly side of that magnolia habitat.