Wednesday, May 4, 2011


This had been an outstanding year for magnolias.  We have managed to elude a late frost so the star magnolias (Magnolia stellata) have held much longer than normal. Now the saucers have taken the stage.  I'm fortunate to live in an old neighborhood, so there are lots of mature grande dame Magnolia x soulangiana gracing the streets and lawns.

Isn't she pretty?

Magnolia is a very ancient tree - it evolved before bees. The whorled leathery petals of its flowers were designed to attract beetles instead. There are fossil records of magnolia go back somewhere around 20 million years, although there is evidence of the plant family back to 95 million years. Charles Plumier in 1703 had the audacity to name a flowering tree he found in Martinique after the French botanist Pierre Magnol and it was generally accepted after Linneaus thought it catchy. Ironically, Linneaus never saw a specimen and took it for the same plant described in Mark Catesby's Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands. It all works out in the taxonomic wash, though.

Trust me, it's whorled.

I haven't planted one.  Why?  Because they only look good for a week, and sometimes, not even then.  If we get a late frost, they look like they're covered in wet handkerchiefs as the flowers aren't frost tolerant.  Yes, they have nice big leaves and smooth grey bark, but I have limited space and a long list of trees to plant.  So, I try to go for walks around the neighborhood to visit with everyone else's trees.  There's also a nice collection at The Morton Arboretum, and I am particularly fond of a few on the West Side along Joy Path.

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