Growing Michela Alba in a pot or container, is it possible?

edj886March 5, 2009

Hi All,

I'm new to this forum and also to fragrant trees/shrubs. Currently I only have two types of fragrant plants, one is a michela figo (banana shrubs), which is blooming right now and gives off fantastic sweet bubblegum smells in the evening and the other one is an Osmanthus Fragran, which is not blooming yet as I've just acquired this plant a week ago, can't wait for it to bloom in late autumn. I've read many interesting posts in this forum about Michela Alba and I do know a nursery in Melbourne that sells this plant. What I'd like to know is whether it is possible to grow this plant in a pot because I know it's a tree and can grow very large but I don't have the room in my backyard to grow this. Also is there any difference between a normal Michela Alba and a Michela X Alba, i.e such as fragrant, height of tree, color or size of flower?

Thanks everyone in advance for answering my questions.

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yellowthumb(5a Ontario)

Let's put in this way, if I can successfully grow that in a pot in Canada, you can do much better with much less effort. Just to simulate the Camellia care.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2009 at 12:02AM
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I work at a nursery, and when customers ask me the question "Can I grow this in a pot?" I tell them this: If you bought it in a pot, you can grow it in a pot. It seems obvious, but the catch is, for how long? Long term (more than, say, 3 years) pot culture requires as much attention to the roots as to the top. Periodic repotting into progressively larger containers, or root pruning, along with top pruning, will allow you to keep a plant as a container specimen for centuries, if you are around long enough. With plants in the Magnolia family, like Michelia, you have to be careful when handling the roots. Unlike most trees and shrubs, which have rather woody roots, these plants have brittle, fleshy roots that are easily damaged. Do your repotting/root pruning in the Spring only, because Fall root pruning often leads to root rot and the death of the plant. Good Luck! Michael

    Bookmark   March 6, 2009 at 11:58PM
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I've seen a m. alba specimen in a big pot (like, 2 feet) at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens blooming its head off. Now, this is in a greenhouse environment, so one question is how's your humidity and how much sun will it get in your yard? Other members know m. alba much better, but my understanding is full sun and hot, dry winds are to be avoided.

M. alba is now generally considered a hybrid of m. champaca with another species, and michelias have been put back into Magnolias, so Magnolia x alba is the current correct name.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2009 at 11:52AM
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Thank you all for replying to my question. I finally bought one which is about 1.5 metre tall with many flower buds, some which have already open. The guy in the nursery I bought it from was very helpful and gave me alot of information about growing this tree in my location. I think when spring comes, I will plant it in the ground. I've already found a suitable spot for it. Nevertheless thanks all for your suggestions.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2009 at 7:25PM
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Edj, which nursery did you buy it from? Is it a grafted plant? Can you give an idea of its price, ie under $50? Over $50? (About growing conditions: yes, full sun in summer is likely to scorch the leaves--avoid strong winds too, esp. those hot northerlies--but I reckon it wouldn't like heavy shade in those long cold grey Melbourne winters either. It's a thirsty plant during the growing season, and will start dropping leaves quickly if allowed to dry out, and eventually die if kept dry for too long. But it doesn't like to be waterlogged either. Give it a good rich soil with lots of organic matter, some light shade from the hottest summer sun and some wind protection if you can manage it, and use mulch in the growing season to help retain the moisture in the soil. Good soil and water will keep its roots healthy and the plant growing well, and protection from the hot summer sun and v. strong winds will keep its foliage looking good.)

Jim, this business of reclassifying plants is very frustrating. As soon as you become familiar with a plant's name, they go and change it--sometimes every decade or so. How's a person supposed to keep track? (Not your fault, of course, I'm just venting.) Anyway, I thought michelias were separated from magnolias because michelias flowered in the leaf axils.We always knew they were related to magnolias, so that's no revelation.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2009 at 7:25PM
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If you think magnolia taxonomy is bad, just take a look at orchids! ;>)
Seriously, it's always a pain when names change; and, yes, michelias were separated because of the flowers in the leaf axils biz, but more recent genetic studies have concluded it isn't enough to justify a separate genus.

Now, who's gonna cross a m. champaca with a m. virginiana to produce a semi-hardy fragrance factory that blooms all year round on stem tips and leaf axils? Anyone? Anyone?


    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 3:41PM
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Yes, I shouldn't complain about michelias compared with the name changes that have occurred with other species. (Easy to end up with two or three copies of the same plant, all bought under different names!) But they seem to change names at the drop of a hat. As soon as they discover something new about a species, they reclassify it. Then another discovery, another reclassification. (Our lemon-scented gums aren't even eucalypts any more--but we're still sold 'eucalyptus oil', not 'corymbia oil' or some such nonsense.)

I reckon there should be a 10-year moratorium on name changes. That is, once it has been agreed (by whichever dastardly body is responsible for plant nomenclature) that a species should be reclassified, that reclassification should not take effect for a decade. Chances are that by that time, they will have decided that the plant belongs to an entirely different species altogether, which means another 10-year wait. Meanwhile, while the boffins argue among themselves, the plant name stays unchanged and much confusion is avoided among the gardening public.

That would be the world according to me!!

But it's a sad state of affairs when the common name of a plant is more reliable (ie unchanged) than its botanical name.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 7:04PM
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Hi Cestrum,

Thank you for providing much information on the growing condition of this plant. I have this plant for about 2 weeks now, I've repotted it in a slightly bigger pot with rich camelia soils. It's doing really well in term of shooting new leaves etc. No sign of damage on the plant especially with the strong winds we have lately.. so far so good, let's hope it makes it through winter. Also I can already smell the beautiful fragrant of the flowers even though they are still in buds, some which should burst opened in the next few days. Now the plant is a grafted plant, onto michelia champagna (i think this is how you spell it). The bottom branch is michelia champagna. As for the cost, you will not believe it. It only cost me $44. Hard to believe, but it is the only nursery I know in Melbourne that sell this plant for this price. They've also got a lot of other fragrant plants/trees. By the way, I've bought my Osmanthus fragrans from this nursery and it's doing really well, I think it might buds soon. The nursery I bought it from is called Yamina Rare Plants Nursery. You can check out their web site with nursery address and contact number on

Good luck

    Bookmark   March 12, 2009 at 7:22PM
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Ah, the famous Yamina nursery. I've seen their website but they're in country Victoria from memory, not actually in Melbourne. Their minimum (online) purchase is $200, plus $40 freight, which is why I've never bought from there. I take it you actually visited the nursery. That would be fantastic.

If grafted, the rootstock used would have been Michelia champaca, a fine tree in itself but I think its scent is surpassed by that of the alba. You've got yourself a little treasure there :-)

    Bookmark   March 13, 2009 at 12:41AM
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