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Michelia - Care Guide
Caring for Michelia
For generations gardeners have recognised that Michelia belonged in the Magnoliaceae family of plants (along with Magnolia, Manglietia and Liriodendron). It was therefore something of a surprise to discover that recent botanical reclassification now means that all species of Michelia have been renamed as magnolia species!
Since some Michelia species had the same names as different magnolia species other changes have been made which further complicates matters. For ease of reference I attach a list of both Michelia and Manglietia and what they are ‘properly’ called now. The ticks indicate the species which grow and can be seen today in the gardens of Burncoose and Caerhays Castle.
Michelias on evergreen trees with some species growing to at least 80ft in height with a spread of say 50-60ft. This is certainly the case with M. doltsopa at Caerhays where there are half a dozen or more 1920s planted trees.
Michelias are spring flowering trees (like most magnolias) whose flowers are white, cream or yellow and scented beyond belief. On a still day you can smell M. doltsopa in the gardens from 100 yards away.
Michelias will (slowly) propagate from summer new growth cuttings but those are best taken from young plants rather than old ones. Mature Michelia species, and particularly M. laevifolia and M. doltsopa, do produce copious quantities of seed but only in a year where the flowers have not been frosted or wind damaged before they could be fertilised. Consequently the nursery has either a surfeit or a glut of M. doltsopa seedlings available.
M. doltsopa ‘Silver Cloud’ is a named cultivar first grown in New Zealand with much larger flowers than M. doltsopa. The flowers have a cinnamon scent and are quite different to M. doltsopa. The plants we offer are normally grafted and in short supply.
We do now have a few plants for sale of M. ‘Touch of Pink’ with large creamy flowers tipped with purple then pink. Similarly M. ‘Mixed up Miss’ which has smaller more abundant flowers with a range of green, cream and pink in the buds and flowers.
M. martinii and M. maudiae are also available in very limited numbers. The former seems hardier than other species and has yellow flowers. The latter has exquisitely scented pure white flowers.
Growing in popularity in many woodland gardens is M. laevifolia (formerly M. yunnanense) which has, initially, a spreading shrub like appearance. You should however not be fooled as this will grow into a large tree (we made this mistake 30 years ago). The numerous small buds are covered in an orangey velvet and yellow – fading to white flowers appear in April and May. This seems to be one of the hardiest species with us. We now also offer good selected forms of M. laevifolia. These are ‘Summer Snowflake’ and ‘White Caviar’.
The great success story of Michelias and their ability to grow well as hardy shrubs and trees in our gardens has been the recent arrival of the ‘Fairy’ series of Michelias from New Zealand. The exact parentage is unknown but M. laevifolia is clearly involved in their breeding. These are tough little evergreens that form shapely young plants or trees and flower away in profusion even in pots. A five year old plant can easily grow to 4-6ft in height with a similar spread and have 50 to 70 flower buds.
There are now four different ‘Fairies’ in the range and all are enormously scented:
M. ‘Fairy Blush’ Pale pink fading to white
M. ‘Fairy Cream’ This one flowers later in the season than the others and is creamy-white
M. ‘Fairy White’ Profuse flowering with the pure white flowers opening flat
M. ‘Fairy Lime’ This is the latest introduction to our catalogue and is startlingly good. The flowers are lime-green in bud opening cream with hints of green. Do judge these plants for yourselves in the pictures at the bottom of these care notes.
We offer one other species which grows well enough outside at Caerhays but which is probably best grown as a conservatory plant because it grows much more slowly. This is M. figo. Our plant is only about 6ft high outside after 30 years. A plant in the Burncoose conservatory grew larger but flowered away from an early age with brownish-purple flowers that smell of pear drops. The velvety indumentum covering the buds is a gorgeous orange.
M. x foggii ‘Allspice’ is reputed to be more tender too but we have found it the most resilient Michelia of all to wind. It will grow into a tree rather than being a shrub. The leaves and buds have coppery coloured velvet on the undersides of the leaves and buds. This is probably the last of the Michelias to flower with us and usually only performs in late May.
Despite all that is said about Michelias being tender, once you get them growing away, they can readily cope with being almost totally defoliated in a ‘Beast from the East’ as we suffered in March 2018. What looked like a disaster soon gave way to a fresh crop of new young leaves. Indeed some species drop most of their old leaves in April or May before or as the new season growth appears.
Many more people are now trying to grow these exceptional plants in colder parts of the country with great success. Start them in a little microclimate of their own with as much shelter and protection as possible for immature young plants. Once they get established they are far more resilient than you might think.
Magnolia aromatica - Manglietia aromatica
Magnolia changhungtana - Manglietia pachyphylla
Magnolia Chevalieri - Manglietia Chevalieri
Magnolia conifera - Manglietia conifera, Manglietia Chingii
Magnolia conifera var. Chingii - Manglietia Chingii
Magnolia Dandyi - Manglietia megaphylla, Manglietia Dandyi
Magnolia decidua - Manglietia decidua, Sinomanglietia glauca
Magnolia Duclouxii - Manglietia Duclouxii
Magnolia Figlarii - Manglietia szechuanica
Magnolia Fordiana - Manglietia Fordiana
Magnolia Fordiana var. Forrestii - Manglietia Forrestii
Magnolia Garrettii - Manglietia Garrettii
Magnolia grandis - Manglietia grandis
Magnolia Hookeri - Manglietia Hookeri
Magnolia insignis - Manglietia insignis
Magnolia kwangtungensis - Manglietia Moto, Manglietia kwangtungensis
Magnolia yuyuanensis - Manglietia yuyuanensis
Magnolia x alba - Michelia x alba
Magnolia Baillonii - Michelia Baillonii, Paramichelia Baillonii
Magnolia Cavaleriei - Michelia Cavaleriei
Magnolia Cavaleriei var. platypetala - Michelia platypetala, Michelia Maudiae var. platypetala
Magnolia Champaca - Michelia Champaca
Magnolia chapensis - Michelia chapensis, Michelia Tsoi
Magnolia compressa - Michelia compressa
Magnolia Doltsopa - Michelia Doltsopa
Magnolia Ernestii - Michelia Wilsonii, Michelia sinensis
Magnolia Ernestii subsp. szechuanica - Michelia szechuanica
Magnolia Figo - Michelia Figo
Magnolia Figo var. crassipes - Michelia crassipes
Magnolia Figo var. Skinneriana - Michelia skinneriana
Magnolia floribunda - Michelia floribunda
Magnolia x Foggii - Michelia x Foggii
Magnolia foveolata - Michelia foveolata, Michelia fulgens, Michelia aenea
Magnolia fulva - Michelia fulva, Michelia ingrata
Magnolia fulva var. calcicola - Michelia calcicola
Magnolia Lacei - Michelia Lacei, Michelia magnifica, Michelia pachycarpa
Magnolia laevifolia - Michelia yunnanensis, Magnolia dianica
Magnolia lanuginosa - Michelia velutina
Magnolia Macclurei - Michelia Macclurei
Magnolia Martini - Michelia Martini
Magnolia Maudiae - Michelia Maudiae
Magnolia odora - Michelia odora, Tsoongiodendron odorum