Tag Archives: Michelias

Magnolia Diary 14, February 19, 2010

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Magnolia alba - hardly spectacular flowers but an intoxicating fragance

In our southern hemisphere summer, Michelia alba is in flower. One could never describe alba as being in full flower – it just gently flowers over a long period without ever putting on a mass display. We planted it near our swimming pool so it could perfume the air in the summer months but as it grows ever larger, we are wondering if we have made a mistake. After about eight years, it is already around eight metres tall and showing no sign of slowing down. It has splendid foliage for those in warm enough climates to grow it and the flowers make up for their rather understated (almost insignificant) appearance with their heady fragrance. We have never seen any evidence that alba is fertile, either as seed parent or pollen donor and lean to the belief that it is likely that there is only one clone in existence and that is sterile. We have champaca (believed to be the seed parent of alba on the premise that alba is most likely a natural hybrid) which has attractive colour in the flowers but the forms we have seen are scruffy as garden plants.

Michelia alba, in the centre rear of the photo, has lush foliage but is growing at an alarming rate in our garden

Michelia alba, in the centre rear of the photo, has lush foliage but is growing at an alarming rate in our garden

Mark’s Fairy Magnolia Blush (the first of his michelias to be released) is also summer flowering but these are random blooms which lack the colour of the main spring season. We have decided that the move to lump all magnolia relations, including michelia and mangletia, into the magnolia group is not helpful so we are going to remain with the former nomenclature at this stage. Mark is of the view that michelias are a distinct group which warrants being kept separate. As far as he knows, nobody has yet proven that they can successfully cross michelias with magnolias, or indeed mangletias although some have claimed hybrids. We will wait for proof because we doubt that it is possible to achieve crosses between distinctly different groups without scientific intervention.

Many of the deciduous magnolias are summer flowering at this time but we never get particularly excited about these. They are bonus flowers, tucked in amongst the foliage, and they lack the impact of the spring flowering on bare wood though it should be said that Black Tulip has put up some fine dark flowers this year. Iolanthe, Apollo and Serene all have summer flowers – in fact most soulangeana hybrids will do so. With our very strong sunlight (blame the depletion of the ozone layer along with our clear atmosphere) summer flowers tend to burn.

Summer flowers on Iolanthe

Magnolia Serene has stand out dark foliage. Generally speaking, the foliage on deciduous magnolias does not excite much interest and in summer, most of them are just green trees with relatively large leaves. But when we cast our eyes around a number of trees in our garden landscape, Serene stood out as having deeper colour and appearing glossier than the others nearby. We think it has considerable merit as a specimen tree for its summer foliage as well as its form and spring flowering. Some magnolias stand the test of time and this is one of Felix’s where we are surprised that it has not been picked up more widely in the marketplace. With its later flowering (ref Magnolia Diaries 11 and 12 to see the flowers) it should perform well in cooler climates.

Magnolia Diary 12, 15 September 2009

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It is Magnolia Serene which is the stand out plant here in full flower this week. Big, beautiful and very pink and signalling the impending close to the deciduous flowering season for this year. This is the original plant, as bred by Felix Jury here (liliiflora x Mark Jury). The original Iolanthe may shade our vegetable garden; the original Serene drops most of its leaves and flowers into our swimming pool. Such is life when you live surrounded by trees.

Impressively pink - the original Serene

Impressively pink - the original Serene

The early yellows are in flower. While still reasonably sought after in this country as novelty plants (New Zealanders take red magnolias completely for granted but yellows are seen as unusual), the problem with most magnolias with acuminata in the breeding is that they flower too late in the season for us and the leaves have already appeared. Elizabeth, Yellow Fever and Sundance will at least flower on bare wood and are attractive enough, but what most people here expect is a butter yellow Iolanthe (ie very large, bright flowers on bare wood) and that is not anywhere to be seen yet. Instead we have pale primrose, small flowers and strappy flower form on plants that tend to rival timber trees in their rates of growth.

Magnolia Yellow Fever planted on our roadside

Magnolia Yellow Fever planted on our roadside

In New Zealand we have a harsh, bright light and the dreaded hole in the ozone layer down near Antarctica is usually getting larger at this time of the year so our sunlight is not well filtered. We are noticing quite bad burning on the late flowers on a number of magnolias. Liliiflora burns, as do liliiflora hybrids (though not Serene at this stage). It may be that extended flowering characteristics are not all they are cracked up to be here – crispy brown blooms are not a good look.

Interlocking circles of pink michelia petals

Interlocking circles of pink michelia petals

Finally, when conditions are right (no wind and light rain), we are always delighted by the sight of rings of pink petals that fall naturally around the base of our row of Fairy Magnolia Blush (Mark’s pink michelia). It is eyes down for a change, to catch this pretty sight.

Magnolia Diary 11, 9 September 2009

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Magnolia Serene, the last of Felix's selections to flower each season

Magnolia Serene, the last of Felix's selections to flower each season

Our magic spring has continued with no wind. A magnolia flowering season with a bad weather factor of only two short lived storms is a good season here. Though I am told that in the south of the province, a series of severe frosts have taken out most of the season’s display. In the deciduous magnolias, Burgundy Star flowers on and is still looking good whereas Felix’s series (Iolanthe et al) are now past their peak. Iolanthe will continue on for weeks yet, but not in her full glory. Serene is still opening. This is one variety that we have been surprised has not had more recognition overseas. Good pink colour, flower form and size, flowers later but still on bare wood and a tidy, well behaved tree. Being liliiflora x Mark Jury, it has reasonable hardiness.

Lollipopped Fairy Magnolia Blush with Magnolia Iolanthe behind

Lollipopped Fairy Magnolia Blush with Magnolia Iolanthe behind

It is full on michelia season. Fairy Magnolia Blush continues in flower and the lollipop row on our frontage is looking good. They were planted in quite harsh conditions (compacted old driveway, in some cases) about five years ago but haven’t minded a bit. I give them a light clip twice a year to retain the shape but otherwise they are left entirely to their own devices.

Mark’s Honey Velvet is in full flower. This is a Magnolia dianica (syn: Michelia yunnanensis) selection and every nurseryman, woman and dog has their own selection made now, so easy is it to raise seed. All we can say about Honey Velvet is that it has a honey cream coloured flower (rather than white) of good size, wonderful bud set, longer flowering season than some and good dark foliage. And it does not appear to defoliate in a cold, wet spring as some of the dianicas do. Other than that, we can’t get too excited about what is just a species selection.

Honey Velvet, Mark's dianica selection

Honey Velvet, Mark's dianica selection

We can and do get excited about the michelia breeding programme and the increasing range of deeper flower colour and size we are starting to see as Mark continues down the track of ever more complex downstream crosses. We can see real progress here but that, alas, is all we can say publicly. It was a bit of a red letter day here yesterday as Mark decided that he was happy to give the go ahead on another deciduous magnolia. Mark has only ever named three magnolias in a breeding programme which has built on his father’s work and thus spans close to five decades now with many hundreds of magnolia plants raised. So to make the decision on a fourth one is no light matter. It is still a long haul from here through final trialling and production before it ever gets anywhere near the marketplace but all we will say officially is that this one is not red.

Magnolia Diary 9, 1 September 2009

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Iolanthe yesterday morning after the storm - the petal drop was prodigious

Iolanthe yesterday morning after the storm - the petal drop was prodigious

Another fierce storm here two nights ago sorted out the durable magnolias from the fly by nighters. Poor old Mark Jury has gone for the year. He only looked sensational for a week. But his progeny are faring better. It is pretty remarkable how much petal drop we can get from Iolanthe and still have a tree full of flowers. The winds blew the petals over 40 metres away. These are short, sharp incidents of storms which last a few hours only but the strong winds and torrential rain certainly causes damage to magnolia blooms. Viewed from a distance, Felix Jury looks great but seen close up, there is quite a bit of damage and bruising and it is the same story on Iolanthe, Milky Way, Lotus and Athene. Cultivars which flower down the stems (as opposed to the short lived stars which set flower buds only on the tips so there is one mass flowering and then it is over) extend the season and there is a second chance to open undamaged blooms. Our white stellata is bravely flowering on through all conditions. Suishoren can blow apart rather easily whereas Manchu Fan takes pretty well all the bad weather in its stride.

Burgundy Star opening its flowers

Burgundy Star opening its flowers

Burgundy Star is the last of our reds to open and the original plant in our carpark is nowhere near to peaking yet. It is a very dark red and on the tree appears to have lost much of the magenta tone which can dominate the other reds. Mark is still hoping that he will get a good plant which is pure red (and we have some hopeful candidates on the track) but in the meantime Burgundy Star makes a very deep red pillar. It being three quarter liliiflora nigra, we are hopeful it may have more hardiness than some of our other selections.

The Snow Flurry series flower on

The Snow Flurry series flower on

Serene is the last flagship magnolia to flower here and is just opening the first flowers. None of the American yellows are open yet, but these mostly flower too late for us and are breaking into leaf at the same time. The doltsopa hybrid Snow Flurry series of michelias flower on and are wonderfully rewarding. The season on the michelias lasts considerably longer and we have many to follow. Alas we have to be very circumspect about what we show of new breeding lest it cut across the chance to patent later so this diary will not be showing the flowerings which make us most excited here.

Magnolia Diary number 2, 11 August 2009

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Leonard Messel, just opening

Leonard Messel, just opening

Our magic early spring weather continues (and believe me, we never take the absence of both wind and rain for granted here) and more magnolias open every day. Leonard Messel is showing his first flowers. Leonard is sold as a small growing magnolia in this country, to be planted perhaps where something shrubby rather than a tree is required. So we were amused to pace out our plant which is only about 20 years old at the most and to find that its footprint is not a lot smaller than many of our substantial magnolia trees. It is just shorter in stature so it looks smaller but it still measures nigh on nine metres across. Leonard Messel looks splendid on its day when in full flower, but the petals and form lack much substance and in a windy climate such soft characteristics mean it can start to look rather raggy.

One of the early flowering Snow Flurry series

One of the early flowering Snow Flurry series

Michelias have been the subject of an intensive breeding programme here for some time now and the early whites are all coming into flower. Botanically michelias have been reclassified as magnolias, but we admit that for clarity and understanding, we lean towards calling them michelias in conversation. We refer to these early whites as the Snow Flurry series and while we can not post a photo of the one we have selected for probable release, we have shelter belts full of the also rans, or rejects. Indeed we have so many that Mark now calls them his sustainable woodlot as he chainsaws off branches to feed our small (very small in number but increasingly large of size) herd of beef cattle to get them through the shortage of late winter feed. Coppiced michelias – these may be a first.

Mark's sustainable woodlot of reject michelia seedlings

Mark's sustainable woodlot of reject michelia seedlings

Besides Lanarth and campbellii, it is the also rans in the deciduous magnolias which are the most spectacular today. Too good to chainsaw out but not quite good enough to put into commercial release, we have a run of what Mark calls his instant campbelliis flowering around the boundaries. Instant because they flower on very young plants (it can take many years for campbellii itself to flower), but this strain of magnolias bloom too early in the season and the trees grow too fast and too large for modern gardens. It is likely that they will remain forever in our shelter belts and on our boundaries where they can look splendid for us.

Rejected campbellii type hybrids

Rejected campbellii type hybrids