Michelia Champaca Descriptive Essay

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Taxonomy [top]


Scientific Name:Magnolia champaca (L.) Baill. ex Pierre
Common Name(s):
Michelia rufinervis Blume
Michelia tsiampacca L. var. blumei Moritzi

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published:2014
Date Assessed:2012-08-31
Assessor(s):Khela, S.
Reviewer(s):Oldfield, S.
Magnolia champaca is classified as Least Concern as it is widespread in the Indo-Malaysian tropical region. There are no specific population information or data on decline of this species. It is used for timber but logging is not thought to be a significant threat to the species at a global level.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Magnolia champaca is native to south and central China and India. It is also commonly found in Bangladesh, Indonesia (east Kalimantan, Jawa and Lesser Sunda Islands), Malaysia (Sabah), Viet Nam, Lao PDR, Cambodia, Myanmar, Nepal and Thailand between 200 to 1,600 m asl (Nianhe et al. 2008). It has been introduced on to Nicobar Island, Andaman Island and Sulawesi.
Countries occurrence:
Bangladesh; Cambodia; China (Tibet [or Xizang]); India (Andaman Is. - Introduced, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu-Kashmir, Karnataka, Kerala, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Nicobar Is. - Introduced, Orissa, Sikkim, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal); Indonesia (Jawa, Kalimantan, Lesser Sunda Is., Sulawesi - Introduced); Lao People's Democratic Republic; Malaysia (Sabah); Myanmar; Nepal; Thailand; Viet Nam
Additional data:
Lower elevation limit (metres):200
Upper elevation limit (metres):1600
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:There is no population information available. In the Eastern Ghats it has been described as being common. In Thailand it has been described as widespread and rather common (Gardener et al. 2007).
Current Population Trend:Unknown
Additional data:
Continuing decline of mature individuals:Yes
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Magnolia champaca is an evergreen or semi-deciduous, medium-tall sized emergent canopy tree up to 50 m tall and 200 cm in diameter. It is found scattered in riparian primary lowland to montane evergreen broadleaf forests in moist vegetation. It flowers from June to July and September to October. It is described as a remarkable tree, worshipped for its great antiquity. Located in Gundal Valley, this pluricentenary tree attracts devotees from distant places. The Reserved Forest in which this tree is found is named after the vernacular Kannada name of this species, Dodda Sampige (Pascal and Ramesh 1995). The colour of the flowers varies according to locality.

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade:Magnolia champaca is best known for its strongly fragrant yellow or white flowers and is used as an ornamental tree and for urban landscaping. Its flowers are also used for perfume and worn as hair decoration and room decoration. The flowers from this tree are used to make the world's most expensive perfume 'Joy'. The leaves are eaten by silkworms. The wood is used as fuel and for making furniture, cabinet making and carvings. It is also used for making doors and windows, and general carpentry. It is also used for light construction. The heartwood is a light yellowish to olive brown. It is straight grained and medium-fine-textured, somewhat lustrous with smooth feel. It is beautiful in its natural colour and can also be polished easily (Woodcarving.com online 2012). It has potential for commercial exploitation for oil production for various uses. Its leaves produce toxins which are poisonous to the rice fungus, Pyricularia oryzae. It also has medicinal values, a decoction of the bark and leaves is given after childbirth; the bark is used as a febrifuge. In Myanmar the flowers are used to treat leprosy and leaves used against colic. Its fatty oils extracted from the seeds show antibacterial activity. The tree is used to reforest badly eroded areas in Java (Agro Forestry Tree Database). In Thailand, M. champaca is commonly planted since very long time as temple trees.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The wood of this timber is exploited which may threatened populations at a local scale.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions:Magnolia champaca exists in cultivation, landscaping and many botanical gardens.


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Last night I went out to dinner with friends to a new Vietnamese restaurant in town. [Absolutely delicious food, but that is a posting for another day.]  As soon as I emerged from their car, and before arriving at my front gate I realized from the divine fragrance in the warm night air, that my favorite tree, Michelia champaca,  was in bloom.  The white blossoming form is known in Thai as Chom-phii [ จำปี], which will bloom heavily for several months and continue to have blossoms until at least December.  It has the characteristic magnolia blossom fragrance, but somehow sweeter and more heavenly. 

Here in Thailand we have three different colored varieties — white blossoms, creamy orange and bright canary yellow [both known as Chom-pha - จำปา].  And yes, I do have all three forms in my garden.  You couldn't expect someone as compulsively anal as I am to to stop with just one!  All three are blessed with exquisite fragrance, but I much prefer the sharper, distinctive aroma of the white form.  The other two have a pleasant, slightly musky aroma which always reminds me of the fragrance which abounds in Thai Buddhist temples from the many wispy trails of smoke from the ever present incense.

Michelia champaca is an evergreen tree, of the Magnoliaceae family, native to Southeast Asia and the more tropical areas of the Himalayan mountains. It is best known and cultivated for its strongly fragrant white or yellow flowers.

The flowers are used in Southeast Asia for several purposes. They are floated in bowls of water to scent the room, and for garlands and hair ointments.

On warm humid nights, the scents can easily be enjoyed several hundred feet away.   Even just driving by in your car, you will notice the scent immediately

These are flowers you don't have to "stick your nose in" as the scent exudes from the tree. Nectar insects appear frantic, driven like drug addicts, bashing into each other to get to the heart of every flower on the tree. 

I was recently told that the perfume Joy, made by Jean Patou, and said to be the most expensive in the world, is made from the essence of the Michelia champaca.  I feel very fortunate indeed to be able to partake of this delightful fragrance, in its most natural form, in my garden on a daily, nightly, monthly basis.

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