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Magnolia obovata - Japanese whitebark or big-leaf magnolia


The Japanese whitebark magnolia is one of the most tropical-looking tree species which can be grown in Finland. It has the northernmost range of any of the magnolias, growing naturally as far north as the Kuriles and Sakhalin Island.

The leaves may be up to half a metre in length, hence the alternative common name, and their lower surface is covered in a silvery felt. The ivory-coloured plate-sized flowers bloom in June, but are mainly hidden by the foliage, though their intoxicating scent spreads far. Autumn colour is showy and early, the leaves turning glowing warm yellows and browns in early October.

Whitebark magnolia has long been grown in Sweden and specimens tens of metres tall can be seen at Kivik Arboretum, for example. The plants growing at Gothenburg originated from seed from the Hokkaido mountains, and have shown themselves hardy; at Mustila plants of the same provenance are growing well, though still in their early years.


Magnolia kobus - kobus magnolia


The Kobus magnolia has been an important tree to Japanese farmers throughout history. When the mountain magnolias turned into a sea of white flowers the farmers knew the time was ripe for spring sowing.

Kobus magnolia is found throughout the whole of Japan excepting the northernmost parts of Hokkaido. The species was first brought to Europe in the late 1770s and became very popular due to its winter hardiness and early, brilliant flowering.

In its native habitat this tree can grow to 25 metres. It flowers before the leaves appear with creamy, mildly scented blossoms up to 10cm in diameter. The leaves are green, entire, about 10cm long and take on bronze tints in autumn, when the trees are also decorated by red cone-like follicles which reveal red-coated seed as they open.

Of the spring-flowering magnolias, this is the hardiest, and has grown successfully – though rare – in southern Finland for decades, despite frost damage in the most severe winters. There is some variation between individuals and provenances. The specimen growing in the garden of Mustila Manor has survived even the coldest winters for at least 50 years and is nowadays reproduced vegetatively under the unregistered variety names ‘Mustila’ and ‘Vanha Rouva’. So those who dream of brilliant scented flowers in southern Finland don’t have to make do with simply dreaming.


Magnolia biondii

This species was found in the wild at the end of the 1800s but didn’t reach the west until 1977. Plant hunter Ernest Wilson, whom we can thank for many of our finest garden plants, collected herbarium samples of Magnolia biondii in 1907, but the seed he collected never germinated. Perhaps they dried out on the long journey west, which is fatal to magnolia seeds.

According to the literature M. biondii, which grows widespread in central China, is very similar to the willow leaf magnolia (Magnolia salicifolia). The leaves are rather large, up to 17 cm long and 10 cm broad. The 10 cm flowers are usually white but may show a trace of red. They appear in early spring, before those of the Kobus magnolia (M. kobus); all the better if reports of their surviving late, light spring frosts are true.

Winter hardiness is reportedly excellent, which would make this a welcome addition to the very limited number of magnolias which are hardy in Finland. The plants in Alppiruusulaakso (Rhododendron Valley) have so far suffered no winter or late frost damage and seem hardier than the Loebner magnolia (Magnolia × loebneri).


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