March 2002

Magnolia x veitchii 'Peter Veitch'


 Introduced by Bob Mitchell
Photographs by Dennis Dick

The genus Magnolia is recognised as one of (and to some) the most primitive of flowering plants. The features which indicate this fact are an abundance of sepals (which are mostly petaloid) and petals, (collectively called tepals); and an equal abundance of the spirally arranged stamens and ovaries.

To further indicate its early evolution, Magnolia has thick, leathery scales which protect the developing buds from frost in the early spring. It is estimated the magnolids date from about 100 million years ago.

Magnolia was named by Linnaeus in honour of Pierre Magnol (1638-1715) who was Professor of Botany and the Director of the Montpellier Botanic Garden in France.

There are about 100 species of Magnolia officially recognised. Its present distribution, in two disjunct areas, in Southeast Asia (including Malaysia and Borneo), and from south east North America through tropical Central America to southern Brazil, indicates a lot about the constancy of the past climate in these areas, over the millions of years. For in these similar regions are also found even more primitive plants, including the Cycads.

Magnolia x veitchii 'Peter Veitch' occurred as the result of a cross between the Himalayan M. campbellii with striking, large, saucer-shaped pink flowers, and the eastern Chinese M. denudata which has erect, cup-shaped, lemon-scented flowers and pristine white petals which are thick and fleshy and, I understand, edible. Of the 6 seedlings raised by Peter Veitch in 1907, five were white, and the one with purple-pink flowers given the name M. x veitchii. In 1971 this plant was given a cultivar name in honour of its raiser and to differentiate it from the white flowered cultivar 'Isca'. The other four seedlings were destroyed as inferior plants.

Magnolia x veitchii 'Peter Veitch' is a strong growing medium sized, deciduous tree. Its leaves grow up to 22cm (8) and are dark green often with a purple tinge when young. An abundance of flowers are produced when the plant is relatively young and are white flushed with purple-pink.

The flowers, 12.5cm (5 in.) tall, are held erect and are more or less vase-shaped. They flower over a long period. It is perfectly hardy in this area but will not tolerate alkaline soil. Magnolias do not like root disturbance, especially the fragile surface roots. It was given a First Class Certificate in 1921.

Now this plant has a tenuous Scottish link through the Veitch family. John Veitch was born in 1752 in Jedburgh and as a young man travelled south to work in a London nursery.

From 1870 he laid out the grounds of Killerton just outside Exeter for Sir Thomas Acland (it now belongs to the National Trust) and, having settled in the area, founded the world famous nursery in Exeter.

Descendants kept the Veitch Nursery in Exeter and then the Exotic Nursery in Chelsea, as family run enterprises and sent out plant collectors to distant lands for new plants. Both have now, alas, now gone.

Where to Find It in the Botanic Garden

Although perfectly hardy in St Andrews Magnolia x veitchii 'Peter Veitch' was planted in the Temperate (Rhododendron) House to get early flowers for botanical teaching.

It is flowering spectacularly well at the moment, together with many species of camellias and rhododendrons.

How to Grow the Plant

Magnolias prefer a neutral to slightly acid well drained loam, but some will grow in more alkaline conditions if regular, well-rotted, acid, organic matter mulches are used. Apart from Magnolia stellata, most species and the enumerable cultivars do prefer a sheltered position in the garden and of course they do associate well with rhododendrons.

It is however important to establish which species will grow well in your area for, as stated, many come from warm temperate and even tropical regions. A little research before a purchase, will prevent disappointment and frustration later.

Magnolias grow well from seed and should be sown in the autumn to allow frosts to soften the seed coat for for water percolation prior to germination.

The lower branches of magnolias can be layered. Plants raised in this way could flower earlier than those grown on from seed.