What is a Lily Magnolia?

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  • Written By: Alex Tree
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 01 November 2019
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The lily magnolia, a small deciduous shrub that measures 9 feet (2.7 m) to 13 feet (4 m) tall and is known for its large pink or purple flowers, belongs to the family Magnoliaceae, or the magnolia family. It is classified under the scientific name Magnolia liliiflora, which is synonymous with Yulania liliiflora. This plant is known by the common names Mulan magnolia, purple magnolia, and woody orchid. Endemic to the slopes and forest edges in the Fujian, Sichuan, and Yunnan regions of China, it has been cultivated for centuries in China and Japan. The lily magnolias found in the West were reportedly introduced from cultivated Japanese varieties.

Flowers of the lily magnolia measure around 3 inches (7.6 cm) across, are slightly fragrant, and have upright egg-shaped flower buds. They bloom in spring before the leaf buds open. The large leaves are 8 inches (20 cm) long and 4 inches (10 cm) wide. Deep green in color on the upper side, the underside of the leaves are grayish green and have a bit of a downy surface. The plant produces seeds that ripen from September to November.


Propagation can be done by either seed or by cuttings. Planting by seed is typically done in late winter, while the cuttings are rooted in early spring. The lily magnolia can grow in sandy, medium, and heavy soils that are well drained and moist. It prefers neutral to acidic soils but can tolerate alkaline soils that are rich in humus. Best planted in partially shady locations, it should also be in a place with a bit of shelter from the wind, as its branches are brittle. This plant is tolerant to atmospheric pollution and temperatures down to -4º F (-20º C), but may not do well in hot and dry climates.

The lily magnolia is mainly grown for ornamental purposes, either as a specimen shrub in gardens or to beautify landscapes. In horticultural circles, it is used with other magnolia species to produce hybrids that bloom at an earlier age, yield more impressive flowers, and are hardier than the species’ wild form. The hybrid M. x. Star Wars was produced using the cultivar M. liliiflora Nigra and the M. campbellii species, while the hybrid M. x. soulangeana, or saucer magnolia, was made with the species M. denudata.

There are also medicinal uses for this plant, particularly in Eastern medicine. The flowers and unopened buds of the lily magnolia are sometimes used to treat fevers. This plant’s flowers, whether used fresh or dried, are believed to have analgesic and sedative properties. When taken internally, they are thought to cause constriction in the blood vessels of the nasal passages, which leads them to being used in the treatment of sinusitis, colds, and allergic rhinitis.


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