the scent of Michelia doltsopa

It’s a cold, blustery day, as Pooh would say, and I’m trying like mad to mentally recreate the scent of Michelia doltsopa from yesterday’s visit to the Los Angeles Arboretum. But, poof, it’s vanished beyond memory, just as it’s probably vanished from that little courtyard in today’s high winds and rain. Raw, windy days like today are kryptonite to scent.


Michelia doltsopa, from the magnolia family, native to Nepal, for zones 9 to 11. Discovered by Scottish physician Francis Buchanan-Hamilton around 1803 near Kathmandu, while he served in the Bengal Medical Service. (There’s not enough hours in a lifetime to read about all these intrepid, multi-hyphenate British scientists/explorers/physicans/zoologists/botanists. Dr. Buchanan-Hamilton also found the time to run the Calcutta botanical garden in 1814.) I can’t tease apart the scent’s various notes, but can confirm that it is freely borne, almost overpowering. Mood-altering, in fact. I’ve only encountered the scent of Michelia figo before, the Banana shrub. That scent is fairly straight-forward, as the name suggests.


The courtyard has several Michelia doltsopa, the tallest probably 15 feet high and covered in flowers pouring out this heady perfume. 25 to 30 feet is about the norm for these trees in cultivation, though in the wild they can reach 90 feet and are used for timber. For LA locals, it’s very much worth a special trip to inhale that complicated scent and reap the benefits of an exotic, in-situ aromatherapy, redolent of bygone explorers and forests filled with “a more beautiful tree than any magnolia.” (Or so says Frank Kingdon-Ward, another of that rare breed of explorer born from the British Empire.)

This entry was posted in Plant Portraits, succulents and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to the scent of Michelia doltsopa

  1. Peter says:

    Sounds heavenly! That does it, I’m moving! You don’t mind if I bring my sleeping bag and sack out on your floor until I find a place, right:)

  2. Denise says:

    Peter, you can keep Ein and the cats company! They love a warm sleeping bag.

  3. Pam/Digging says:

    I’m sold. Now where I can I get a sniff?

  4. Patricia says:

    I first saw Michelia doltsopa when on holiday in San Francisco many years ago and was enchanted by the sight of this tree in full bloom, reflected in a lake. I found out its name and then, when I returned home to Guernsey in the Channel Islands, just by chance, I found one for sale locally and couldn’t resist giving it a home in my garden. That was about fifteen years ago. It has grown into a large tree and its flowers are now in the process of opening like flocks of white doves and my garden is filled with its scent…absolutely gorgeous! How lovely to find a fellow enthusiast for this exceptionally beautiful plant.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *