Native to China, Magnolia denudata, also called Yulan Magnolia or Lily Tree, was probably the first magnolia cultivated around 4,000 years ago. Beloved for its pure white, elegant flowers, it was regarded as early as 650 AD by Buddhist monks in China as a symbol of purity and its exquisite flowers were a gift worthy of an emperor.
Considered one of the most beautiful Magnolias, Magnolia denudata is a large deciduous shrub or small tree. Upright and cup-shaped when borne, its creamy to ivory white flowers, 3 in. long (8 cm), gracefully open their 9-12 tepals as they mature, resembling lilies. The tepals sometimes display a tinge of pink at their base, adding to the beauty of the bloom. Rich of a lemon fragrance, the blooms appear on naked branches in late winter to early spring, before the ovate leaves unfurl.
Magnolia denudata always creates a very dramatic scene in the garden and makes a wonderful specimen, as a single-trunked or multi-stemmed tree. Growing with an upright habit when young, it becomes more rounded and broad spreading with age. It makes a splendid spring flowering specimen tree for lawns or near your patio. It should be sheltered from strong winds and late frosts, where possible. While very hardy, its blooms, like those of most early blooming Magnolias, are susceptible to late frosts.
Magnolia denudata is parent to many cultivars, the more famous, including Magnolia x soulangeana, a cross between M. denudata and M. liliiflora; and Magnolia x veitchii, a cross between M. denudata and M. campbellii.