The Q&A Archives: Michelia Alba

Question: I have a 25 feet tall of Michelia Alba tree growing in my back yard in San Francisco. I want to propagate the tree by air layering or grafting or collecting seeds. I need your advice. Thank you.

Answer: Michelia alba is an evergreen tropical tree from Southeast Asia beloved for its wonderfully fragrant flowers. In its native habitat, this tree can get to 30?? high and wide and is often used as a street tree. It is believed to be a hybrid between Michelia champaca (another fragrant tree in its own right and the source of the word ?eShampoo?f) and Michelia montana, a Malaysian species. Possibly due to its hybrid origin, Michelia alba rarely set seeds in the garden, so most propagation is done by cuttings or air-layering.

Most stem cuttings can be taken throughout summer and fall, but stem cuttings of some woody plants such as Michelia root better if taken in the fall. Detach a 2- to 6-inch piece of stem, including the terminal bud. Make the cut just below a node. Remove lower leaves that would touch or be below the medium. Dip the stem in rooting hormone if desired. Gently tap the end of the cutting to remove excess hormone. Make a hole in the medium with a pencil or pot label, and insert the cutting deeply enough into the media to support itself. Place the pots with the cuttings outdoors in a protected spot. They should root by next spring.

Air layering is easy. Slit the stem just below a node. Pry the slit open with a toothpick. Surround the wound with wet sphagnum moss. Wrap plastic or foil around the sphagnum moss and tie in place. When roots pervade the moss, cut the plant off below the root ball.

Best wishes with your project!

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