Magnolias are some of the most magnificent specimen trees and shrubs in the garden. Magnolia kobus is a species that is native to the woodlands and mountainous regions of Japan, it is known as one of the hardiest of all magnolias and one of the earliest to bloom in spring.
In late March when most deciduous trees are still bare, the buds of the Kobushi Magnolia shed their grey fur coats and burst into bloom. A profusion of goblet shaped buds open into white, star shaped scented flowers, smother the trees. Each flower, approximately 10cm (4in) in diameter has petals faintly tinted pink peeping deep inside and send forth a beautiful, delicate fragrance.
The leaves which usually emerge after flowering are dark green and last until autumn. After flowering, ornamental pink fruit are produced in autumn. When mature the fruits are 5 to 15cm (2 to 6 in) long and ripen and split to expose the orange-red seeds.
A lovely small, flowering garden tree, Magnolia kobus is a superb addition to a spring border or woodland garden. It has a slow rate of growth and bears flowers on its bare branches at an early age. As the tree matures the flowering increases to a point where it looks like a billowy white cloud in flower.
It displays upright oval growth in youth, and spreads and mounds with maturity. The roots are not aggressive and this tree casts open shade making it possible to garden under the canopy. In its native environs can reach 8m (24ft) in height , but in Europe they usually remain small. They can be used as specimens or as backdrops for other plantings and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for 80 years or more.
In the area of Okayama, the annual 'Kobushi Matsuri', the Wild Mountain Magnolia Festival is celebrated during the first two weeks of April. The sight in the gorge with the steep cliffs shining white with all the flowering trees is superb.
Farmers in northern Japan use the blooming of magnolia as the signal to get ready to start planting, and gave it the name, tauchi-zakura meaning 'Cherry for starting planting the fields' Such index is practical even now because of weather changes each year.
Sowing: Sow seeds as soon as possible, do not store.
Seeds have been removed from the red seed coat, cleaned and are ready for planting.
A practice many growers use is to sow seed directly into containers 20-30cm (8-12in) deep to allow for the eventual, vigorous root system. This practice eliminates the need to transplant into pots after the first true leaves have formed. Other propagators stratify seeds in plastic bags and plant them in pots after germination.
Place the seeds in a polythene bag containing a moist, sterile medium such as peat or grit, seal and label and put in the refrigerator at about 4°C (39°F). Leave for about two months, check regularly and plant as they germinate.
Sowing into pots:
Sow seeds about 1.3cm (0.5in) deep into pots containing a light compost. Whatever medium is used, it is important that it be well drained and preferably sterile. It is best to cover pots with plastic or glass to retain moisture and humidity and protect the seed.
Keep moist at all time.
Seeds germinate at temperatures of about 18 to 24°C (65 to 75°F). Germination can take place in a few weeks, but as much as several months may be required.
After germination, and remove the plastic or glass covering and place the seedlings in a sunny location. When seedlings are big enough to handle (about 2-3 weeks), carefully transfer to pots. Grow on until they are strong enough to plant into their permanent positions. Harden off before planting out (after the last expected frosts).
Position in full sun or partial shade. Protect frosted flowers from the early morning sun as rapid thawing discolours and shortens the life of the flowers. Magnolias are otherwise fully hardy down to -10°C (14°F). Feed every two weeks whilst the tree is in leaf using a balanced fertiliser, from August the use of a low-nitrogen feed is recommended to harden the years growth in preparation for the winter.
They prefer a moist well drained slightly acidic soil, but are fairly tolerant. It is beneficial to add a top dressing of compost, but be careful not to disturb the roots. Magnolias do best when given enough room to develop root systems - better away from other trees with plenty of sun and room to grow. Transplanting large trees isn't advised
M. kobus puts out the majority of its years' growth in the 5 or 6 weeks after flowering. In late June prune back to shape. After this time, next years' flower buds will be forming and further pruning will result in fewer flowers the following spring.
Magnolia is that it is virtually disease free. Watch for include leaves turning yellow, which would be a sign of too much alkaline in the soil. Aphid insects and scales, most often during flowering season can be a problem. Simply use an organic herbicide, taking care not to spray while the flowers are open.
A ornamental, specimen tree or focal point. Magnolias are used in Chinese medicine.
Known as kepelan in Indonesia, M. kobus are grown and harvested for use in furniture making and for carved panels. It is very hard but chips easily making it difficult to carve.
Bonsai. Due to its relatively large flowers (5" across) and leaves (4" across) it tends to suit medium to large sized bonsai. It is most commonly seen in single or multiple trunk informal upright styles.
An ancient genus:
The magnolia family is very ancient with fossil remains dating between 36 and 58 million years ago. Having evolved before bees and other flying pollinators appeared, the flowers developed to encourage pollination by beetles. Flowers do not produce true nectar, but attract pollinating beetles with fragrant, sugary secretions. The pollen is high in protein and the beetles use it for food.
Another primitive aspect of Magnolias is their lack of distinct sepals or petals. The term tepal has been coined to refer to the intermediate element that Magnolia has instead.
The Kobushi magnolia is closely related to Magnolia stellata, the Star Magnolia, and some authorities consider the Star magnolia to be a variety of M. kobus.
Magnolias were well known and widely used by ancient cultures in Asia and the Americas. The beautiful flowering tree has been cultivated in China since the 7th century. The Japanese have grown Magnolia stellata for centuries as flowering pot plants called "Shidekobushi" ("Zigzag-petalled Kobushi Magnolia"). The Aztecs knew Magnolia macrophylla var. dealbata as "Eloxochitl" ("Flower with Green Husk").
Europeans were not familiar with magnolias and they first discovered them while exploring the Americas. In 1688, Sweet Bay (Magnolia virginiana) was the first magnolia introduced to Europe. Unaware of Amerindian or Asian names for the species, in 1703 Charles Plumier (1646-1704) described a flowering tree from the island of Martinique in his Genera. He gave the species, known locally as 'Talauma', the genus name Magnolia, after Pierre Magnol, a 17th century French botanist.
The species name Kobushi means literally ‘small fist’, since the buds look like such.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 10 Seeds Family Magnoliaceae Genus Magnolia Species kobus Synonym Buergeria obovata, Magnolia praecocissima, Yulania kobus Common Name Kobushi Magnolia, Mountain Magnolia, Other Common Names Northern Japanese Magnolia Hardiness Tree Flowers White, star shaped scented flowers Natural Flower Time Spring, March to April Foliage Deciduous, Dark Green. Horizontal branches Height 6 to 8m (20 to 24ft) when mature Spread 4 to 5m (12 to 15ft) when mature Position Full sun to part shade Soil Rich, well-drained soil, tolerant of acidic soil Notes Hardy, Deciduous Tree.