Magnolia champaca

Himalayan magnolia


Magnolia champaca

(L.) Baill. ex Pierre 1880

pronounced: mag-NO-lee-uh cham-PAK-uh

(Magnoliaceae — the magnolia family)

synonym — Michelia champaca

L. 1753

pronounced: my-KEE-lee-uh cham-PAK-uh

common names: Himalayan magnolia, joy perfume tree

Magnolia is named for Pierre Magnol (1638-1715), a French botanist; champaca comes from the Sanskrit word campaka, and in the synonym Michelia is named for an Italian botanist, Pietro Antonio Micheli (1679-1737).

The tree is a native of south and south-east Asia, Indonesia and southern China. It is found in tropical and subtropical moist forests, usually at elevations between 200 and 1600 m. In its native range it can grow to 50 m, or even taller, with a trunk of up to almost 2 m in diameter, although it is more often only 20 - 30 m tall. The tree has a narrow umbelliform crown, and the broad-lanceolate leaves are up to 25 cm long. The leaf margins are entire, and somewhat undulating.

It flowers in summer, with large (8 cm) strongly fragrant flowers in various shades of cream to yellow-orange, and with up to 12 petals, that are especially fragrant at night. The flowers attract butterflies and humming birds

The obovoid to ellipsoid fruits are 2 to 4-seeded, and the aril-covered seeds are attractive to birds

The species is heavily logged for its fine timber; but in some parts of India, especially in the south-west, there are many groves of the trees that are considered sacred by both Hindus and Buddhists, and these are protected from logging. The timber is valuable. It has a finely-textured dark brown wood, which is used in furniture making and construction.

The Himalayan Magnolia is also cultivated by specialist nurseries as an ornamental, and planted out in gardens in many areas, especially in southern California. The tree photographed is in a Picnic Bay garden. In temperate climates, the tree is often planted in containers.

Champaca Essential Oil is used as an anti-depressant – it is said to relax the body and strengthen the mind. It has a beautifully seductive fragrance, and is widely used in the perfumery industry for its complex dark and citrusy aroma to produce some very exotic scents. Jean Patou’s famous perfume, ‘Joy’, the second-best selling perfume in the world after Chanel No. 5, contains the essential oil.

In massage therapy the oil is used to support healthy joints and muscles. It is reckoned to be an excellent skin moisturizer and rejuvenator, and is also supposed to be an aphrodisiac. Its use, however, should be avoided during pregnancy, as it is an emmenagogue.


Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.


Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2016
Page last updated 31st January 2019