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.