Half Of The World’s Magnificent Magnolias Are Threatened With Extinction

The Global Tree Assessment’s latest Red List publication highlights the startling truth that nearly half (48%) of the magnolia species are threatened with extinction in the wild.

            Magnolia omeiensis            (Li Cehong) Magnolia sieboldii(Arb.Wespelaar)            Magnolia kobus           (BGCI)

Magnolias are universally admired for the beauty of their flowers, and their emergence in early spring provides a splash of much-needed vibrancy and color in many gardens after the long, dark winter months. The diversity of flower forms, colors and leaf types exhibited by these trees is reflected in the number and variety of magnolia species and cultivars that we grow and cherish in our gardens today. Magnolias are also more than just a pretty face: in their countries of origin, many species are highly valued for timber and medicines by local communities and in international trade.

However, a report published on the 18th March 2016 by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) highlights the startling truth that many species in this treasured plant family are at risk of going extinct. The Red List of Magnoliaceae presents conservation assessments conducted by experts for 304 wild magnolia species from around the world. The assessments have been carried out using the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria, an internationally recognized and widely used system for classifying species at risk of extinction.

The results are far from pretty. Nearly half (48%) of the magnolia species assessed are threatened with extinction in the wild. The Neotropics hold the highest proportion of threatened magnolias, with 75% of Neotropical magnolia species threatened with extinction. “Magnolias are an ancient group of trees that have survived epochs of global change. Now we stand to lose half of all species unless we take action to prevent extinction,” says Sara Oldfield, Co-Chair of the IUCN/SSC Global Tree Specialist Group and co-author of this report. Magnolias are principally threatened by logging activity, with habitat loss due to land conversion to agriculture and livestock farming also a significant factor in their global decline. Other threats include the collection of wild plant material and impacts of climate change. One of the magnolias categorized as Endangered is Magnolia stellata, or the star magnolia, which is one of the most popular magnolias with gardeners. But in its native Japan, wild populations of Magnolia stellata are threatened by habitat loss.

“We are fortunate magnolia captures interests of scientists and gardeners alike, but the red-listing process is critical for providing a global, comprehensive assessment,” says Gary Knox, President of the Magnolia Society International. “By highlighting threatened species, the Red List enables scientists and supporters to focus on gaining knowledge about and strategically protecting these species both in and ex situ.“ The Red List of Magnoliaceae aims to stimulate conservation action for the magnolia species highlighted as under threat. The Global Trees Campaign, a joint initiative between BGCI and Fauna & Flora International (FFI), is currently supporting nine magnolia conservation projects in China and the Neotropics, in partnership with in-country experts and conservationists. The partners are carrying out field surveys to monitor species distribution and population trends, advocating for governments to create protected areas to safeguard threatened magnolias and their habitat, engaging with local communities to raise awareness of the threats to wild magnolia species and provide training in conservation techniques, and establishing collections in botanic gardens.

As well as identifying magnolia species that are known to be threatened with extinction, the report also highlights that almost one-third of magnolias are still too poorly known for it to be possible to make a conservation assessment. This includes Magnolia liliiflora, one of the species used by horticulturalists to produce hybrids, such as the saucer magnolia (Magnolia × soulangeana). These hybrids are highly popular in gardens, yet not enough information exists in wild populations of the parent Magnolia liliiflora species to be able to determine its conservation status.

The report also surveys how many magnolia species are found in botanic gardens, arboreta and seed banks. Ex situ collections are a vital safeguard in the event that wild populations of a species become extinct, and can be used for conservation research and to propagate seedlings for planting back out in the wild. While the results of this survey indicate that considerable progress has been made in recent years, still less than half (43%) of threatened magnolia species are represented in ex situ collections.

“This report highlights the fact that even for a well-known and widely cultivated plant group such as the magnolias, we can’t be complacent, “ says Paul Smith, BGCI’s Secretary General. “It also shows the importance of red list assessments. Now we know which species are threatened in the wild, we can instigate measures to ensure that they don’t become extinct.”

The Red List of Magnoliaceae is the latest in a series of Red Lists of tree species published as part of the Global Tree Assessment, an initiative led by BGCI and the IUCN/SSC Global Tree Specialist Group. The Global Tree Assessment aims to assess the conservation status of all tree species by 2020, in order to guide conservation action priorities.

If you appreciate magnolias, and would like to support the Global Tree Campaign conservation projects, find out how you can support us here.


The Red List of Magnoliaceae