The Joy Tree

Michelia alba, the Joy Tree

Normally I would not single out a species for this blog, but there are some plants which captivate everyone who sees them. I have visited many public gardens and I could construct a short list of plants that have a huge "wow" factor to them. Some of these plants are temperate, such as Tuberous Begonias, Camellias, Peonies, Fuchsias and Meconias, but some are tropical. Unfortunately, not all really spectacular species can grow in South Florida for the long term.One of the flashiest trees of all is the legendary lady Amherst Tree, Amherstia nobilis, but the tree is so temperamental that the closest most people will get to seeing one is in a book.Some species, however, actually are good landscape plants, and the Joy Tree is one of them.

Some years ago, I encountered a Joy Tree, Michelia alba. I was smitten immediately by its fragrance, a rich but light mix of jasmine, peach, and fresh bananas. This tree is now considered by some taxonomists to be a Magnolia, but I prefer the mellifluous sound of its genus name, and I am sticking to it. It grows well in warm areas, and in South Florida it can be in flower much of the year. Naturally, there are several selections of the species, but I have not seen named cultivars on the market just yet. There is a closely related species, the Champak Tree, also called the Champaca Tree, Michelia champaca, with a different fragrance, and yellow flowers. The Champak Tree sets seed readily and grows quickly into a flowering specimen, whereas the Joy Tree is usually grafted onto a Champak rootstock to increase its vigor as a landscape tree. Consequently, Joy Trees are more expensive than Champak trees, but may be worth the extra expense.

Michelia champaca

Michelia champaca seed

The name of the tree stems for its use in Joy perfume, one of the most expensive produced. Both the orange Champak and white Joy trees grow alike, although the orange form grows a bit faster than the white. Both trees enjoy a good sunny spot in the garden, with rich soil, ample water, regular fertilizing, iron supplements and plenty of mulch. The results are worth the effort ! The flowers produced are fragrant on a level most people don't know or have ever experienced. This is an excellent candidate for planting where the prevailing wind can go through the tree and waft the fragrance toward the house.

habit of Michelia tree


The trees are often available at plant sales and shows, especially if you are lucky enough to be near a sale from the Miami-based Tropical Flowering Tree Society. On the southwest coast of the state, such trees are seen more and more often, a real boon, given the balmy and protective climate offered in Naples and the coastal areas. This is a tree that deserves more merit as an urban planting. In protected areas, it could serve an interesting purpose: fragrance in an urban landscape. As a collector's tree, it grows well and is well-behaved, not growing too fast or with brittle branches or messy seed pods. I hope you have the pleasure of experiencing one of these trees soon, for it will change your mind about what people plant in their own gardens.

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens


  1. Hi Craig,

    I found this tree because my brother has one and he lives about 5 miles away from me. I went into his courtyard and was amazed my the scent. I asked him what it was, and I was sold. I purchased a Chumpaca Alba tree in April. I live in Nothern California. My tree was doing well. It has grown quite a bit since I planted it in April, and had some blooms (very fragrant). In late October, I noticed that it had less blooms on it, but now they are all gone. My brothers tree (about 3 years old and very tall) is still blooming. Can I do anything to make my tree produce more blooms, or should I wait until spring?



  2. Hi Joyce- A few insights about a Michelia champaca allba; they are tropical trees, and get damaged by our cold weather even in coastal Miami. The trees like warm weather, but they especially need warm roots. Once the weather turns cool(er)here, even our established trees show some leaf drop and start turning yellow. Your tree in No. California may experience the same thing. If your tree is still potted, choose a southern exposure and see what you can do to keep the roots as warm as possible. Liquid fertilizer is helpful, and the trees enjoy extra magnesium and iron. If you use a general purpose fertilizer such as Rapid-gro or Miracle-Gro, add 2 teaspoons of Epsom Salt per gallon of fertilizer, and you should see a boost in the tree's leaf color fairly fast. Liquid iron supplements are also useful, and almost any liquid iron product will work.If the tree is in the ground, you may be in for some trouble, since the tree will shut down once the soil gets below 55F. I'm not sure how to remedy the situation, but I'd bet some of the long-term local nurserymen could assist with the tricks for the local area.

    There a number of other Michelia species which would do well for you in your climate, and one of my favorites from No. Florida was Michelia doltsopa, and an allied species, Michelia figo, the Banana Shrub. There is a selection called Michelia 'Allspice' which had wonderfully fragrant flowers and prefers cooler climates. In fact, most Michelia species prefer cooler climates than we have in SE Florida, so you may be in a better position to grow them than I would.

    The main issue will be to keep your tree warm, and lightly fertilized throughout the year. They are evergreen, and need culture and food all year. Ours struggle during a cold winter, but rebound fine in April.

    Good luck, and I hope this helps !

    Craig Morell
    Pinecrest Gardens

  3. Hi Craig,
    Is there any grower near Fort Myers that sell this wonderful
    tree, Michella alba.

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  5. Hi,

    My name is Gary.
    I had planted a 45 gallon Michelia Champaca in my yard perhaps a couple months ago now.

    It was about 12-15' tall and full of light green leaves. After transport from Miami to Davie, FL some of the edges of the leaves were browned.

    It had been looking pretty good for about two months and then about 2 weeks ago I added some compost and mulch around the base of the trunk. I probably made the mistake of putting down some granular blooming fertilizer on top of the mulch.
    I didn't put a lot but the next day we had tremendous storms and my tree was sitting in a flooded yard for a couple days. There was probably about 5" of water covering the ground and the trunk.

    Shortly after all the leaves have dried and died. The branches some of them still look green and are bendable not brittle and dry.

    I tried to push the mulch away from the trunk and base of the tree and do not see any remnants of the granular fertilizer anymore.

    My fear was that I burned the tree or root rot.
    We finally have had some dried days now and the ground hasn't been flooded anymore.

    Any advice? I am looking for any signs of new leaf growth and I see a few tiny buds in the lower branches but they haven't grown much in the past few days.

    Praying the tree is not going to totally die

    Just looking for your advice.
    thanks for your time,