Initially described as by Portuguese missionary and naturalist João de Loureiro as Liriodendron figo, it was reclassified as Michelia figo by German botanist Curt Polycarp Joachim Sprengel. In 2006, a cladistic analysis of the genus Michelia found them to lie within the genus Magnolia, with the name now being Magnolia figo.
It is cultivated as an ornamental plant in gardens for its fragrant flowers, which are cream-white, purple rounded, or light-purple, and strongly scented with isoamyl alcohol. The leaves are leathery, dark glossy-green, up to 10 cm long. This plant is used in Shanghai, China, as a tall evergreen hedge. It grows to a large evergreen compact tree. It grows in acid and alkaline soil very well. Susceptible to black soot.