'Prehistoric plants'

As some of the world’s most ancient trees, magnolias are popular for their large, fragrant flowers. Over 200 different Magnolia species are found globally, but sadly almost half of these are threatened with extinction. Magnolia grandis has characteristic dark-red, sweet-smelling flowers. As its name implies, the species has huge leathery leaves that grow to over a foot in length. A combination of hot, rainy summers and cool, foggy winters suits these trees, which grow in evergreen forests within limestone mountain valleys. Until recently, Magnolia grandis had been seen only in China in very limited numbers across a few sites. However, surveys conducted by the Global Trees Campaign in 2014-15, revealed previously unknown populations in three protected areas in northern Vietnam.

Magnolia grandis facts

  • Fossilised magnolia flowers have been found that are 95 million years old
  • As magnolias existed before bees, their flowers evolved to be pollinated by beetles
  • Magnolia bark has been used for centuries in traditional medicines and recent studies report potential for their use in modern treatments
  • Magnolias earned their name from the French botanist, Pierre Magnol (1638 – 1715)
  • New varieties of magnolia are in constant development due to their popularity as an ornamental flower
At a glance
Magnolia grandis
Critically Endangered Critically Endangered
China China Vietnam Vietnam





Est. in the wild:

Fewer than 300 adult trees


Magnolia grandis is found only in southern China and northern Vietnam.


of Magnolia species found globally are threatened with extinction.

Fewer than 250

mature Magnolia grandis trees currently grow in northern Vietnam.

Conservation story

Habitat loss is a major contributing factor in the species’ decline, with illegal logging for the timber trade, along with conversion of forest to rice paddies, farms and pastures, threatening Vietnamese populations. Additionally, cultivation of cardamom in Magnolia grandis habitat impairs the tree’s natural regeneration as farmers remove young seedlings to favour the crop. Although Vietnam’s magnolia populations grow within protected areas, limited law enforcement and management on the ground mean that, realistically, protection for this critically endangered species is minimal.

How FFI is helping to save Magnolia grandis

Since the species’ discovery in Vietnam, FFI and our local NGO partner, the Centre for Plant Conservation Vietnam, have been working with local communities to protect these threatened trees. Community conservation teams conduct regular patrols across critical Magnolia grandis habitat areas, ensuring protection from further illegal logging activities.

With so few wild individuals remaining, strengthening Magnolia grandis populations is key for reducing extinction risk. Seeds are sown in local nurseries and cared for until ready to be planted in community forests and in cardamom plantations. So far, 90% of the 1,145 seedlings planted have survived, and a further 1,500 seeds have been collected by community conservation teams for future planting.

Fast-growing magnolia trees provide ideal shady conditions for sustainable cardamom crop growth, demonstrating that working with local farmers to help improve livelihoods can go hand in hand with protecting Magnolia grandis populations.

This protection can extend beyond the magnolia trees it is intended for. The world’s largest population of Magnolia grandis shares its home with the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey, a critically endangered primate, so efforts to protect the threatened tree population also benefit other species in the same habitat.

“Local people are helping to save Magnolia grandis from extinction in Vietnam. Their work to patrol the species’ habitat is protecting the last trees from logging, and their efforts to plant out seedlings across Tung Vai are providing a vital boost for this critically endangered tree.”
Alicky Davey Programme Manager, Plant Conservation