Magnolia laevifolia (syn. yunnanensis) ‘Inspiration’

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Dramatic flowers paired with a delightful fragrance make this a must-have tree.

July 9, 2019

Magnolia ‘Inspiration’ is a beautiful small tree, reaching only 8-10 feet at maturity.
Photos courtesy of Mark Leichty

I found a beautiful evergreen tree a couple years ago at West Seattle Nursery that I simply had to buy. I’ve got a big garden with lots of room to tuck in a small tree, so why not? It turns out that my Michelia yunnanensis ‘Inspiration’ is now one of my favorite trees in the garden, though since I planted it, I’ve learned that it has been reclassified as Magnolia laevifolia (syn. yunnanensis) ‘Inspiration’. A Michelia by any other name smells as sweet, though, right? In early spring, the tree is shrouded by a cloak of deliciously fragrant white flowers which last for several weeks to a month, depending on weather conditions. As the season progresses, the white petals fall away, leaving behind brown seed cones, which mature through the summer and fall.

The large white flowers of Magnolia ‘Inspiration’ fill the garden with a wonderful fragrance in early spring.

Magnolia ‘Inspiration’ is the perfect tree for a small yard. In a front yard, it is an eye-catching specimen that will have passers-by stopping to ask, "What is that beautiful tree?" It’s a great choice for an intimate patio setting. Its canopy offers year-round privacy screening and the fragrant flowers add a great aroma to a spring dinner party on the back patio. I would pair it with a Sauvignon Blanc, perhaps Kim Crawford. My ‘Inspiration’ is definitely growing into a tree form, with a clear trunk and branches. It can also be grown in shrub form. I personally like the tree form because it allows for underplanting of your favorite shade perennials, like small hostas such as ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ or low-growing ferns like Asplenium trichomanes or Blechnum penna-marina. Small daphne varieties like ‘Lawrence Crocker’ would extend the season of fragrance and remain evergreen. Magnolia ‘Inspiration’ and the companion plants I’ve suggested will all thrive in a soil pH from 6-7.5 and will appreciate regular summer water and mulching.


Why grow Magnolia ‘Inspiration’?

  • It’s a beautiful small specimen tree for confined spaces, reaching only 8-10 feet tall at maturity.
  • It’s evergreen, with dark green, glossy leaves.
  • It has beautiful milky-white fragrant flowers in early spring.


Mark Leichty is the Director of Business Development at Little Prince of Oregon Nursery near Portland. He is a certified plant geek who enjoys visiting beautiful gardens and garden centers searching for rare and unique plants to satisfy his plant lust.