A cousin of the lovely deciduous Magnolia genus, once classified as a Magnolia* itself and indeed known as the port wine magnolia, this evergreen shrub from China grows well in the Sydney climate and a good alternative to Magnolia in warmer areas where those plants don't do as well. Magnolia figo is a useful background specimen, with lushly green foliage and creamy, purple-flushed flowers in late spring/early summer. The tulip-shaped flowers are not showy like those of its more flamboyant Magnolia relatives, but they are strongly scented, with a fragrance described variously as resembling banana, port wine or bubblegum!
The rounded shrub grows 3-4 m tall, with a width of 1.5-3.5 m, but is said to be slow-growing. It can be pruned to shape after flowering to reduce its size. It will grow in sun or partial shade, and enjoys humus-rich, well-drained soil and sufficient water in summer. It doesn't like harsh frost. It can be used as a hedge or screen plant. Propagation is by semi-hardwood cuttings taken in summer and autumn.
There are several cultivars of the plant that have larger flowers and that apparently grow faster than the species, including 'Lady of the Night' (ht 4 m) and 'Coco' (ht 4 m). Michelia figo has also been hybridised with Michelia doltsopa (which is a rather large tree) to produce Michelia x foggii cultivars that are small trees with fragrant flowers in late winter or spring.
*Note that some classification systems, such as The Plant List, now call this plant Magnolia figo!