Magnolia heads rampantly for record books

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The Independent Online
ONE OF Britain's most remarkable trees - a giant magnolia in full bloom - is growing at a record rate. The tree, a goddess magnolia at Westonbirt Arboretum, the Forestry Commission's "tree zoo" at Tetbury in Gloucestershire, is at 80ft the tallest example of the sub-species in this country.

But so rapid is its growth - it has shot up nine feet in the past three seasons - that within five years it is likely to be the biggest magnolia of any type in Britain. The distinction is held by two trees in Cornwall that touch 90ft and are more than twice its age.

The 40-year-old Tetbury magnolia (for gardening enthusiasts Magnolia sprengeri Diva) is a remarkable sight clad in goblet-shaped blossoms from top to toe. Magnolias, which have been bursting into white, yellow, pink or purple bloom in suburbs across the land in recent weeks, are known for rapid growth. "Seen in the wild you realise they are forest trees," said Westonbirt's head forester, Tony Russells. "They are the oaks of the forests of the East."

In many species the blossoms appear before the leaves, and stand out in a striking way in March, for many of them the peak flowering month. The Tetbury tree comes from the Himalayas and the species was first brought to Britain in 1901 by the plant collector Ernest Wilson. There are 80 species, from North and Central American as well as Asia.

Westonbirt, founded in 1829, is now one of the world's biggest arboretimsa, with 18,000 trees in its 600 acres.