Dreaming Of Magnolias

By Teo Spengler | March 9, 2022
Image by Olha Gubachova
by Teo Spengler
March 9, 2022

Who doesn’t love magnolias? I know more about these ancient trees than I used to, thanks to working as a docent for the San Francisco Botanical Garden. It houses the largest collection of magnolia species in any garden outside of Asia. And what I’ve learned intrigued me. 

That means that when I try to think of broadleaf evergreens that appeal to me, magnolias leap to mind. Here’s why.

Oldest Flowering Plants

Magnolias have the distinction of being one of the oldest flowering plants on the planet. Fossil records establish that magnolias grew in Europe, Asia and North America some 100 million years ago. They appeared on earth before the bees or other hovering insects and their large, sturdy flowers developed to allow pollination by beetle. Now that’s cool!

While there are 80 species of magnolia, some are deciduous and others evergreen. Here in the United States, the native species include Southern magnolia, an evergreen. The huge white blossoms are the official state flower of Mississippi.

Southern Magnolia

Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) is one magnificent tree. A broadleaf evergreen, it is beloved for both its giant white flowers (to 12 inches/30 cm. in diameter) and its attractive dark green leaves. The magnolia grandiflora grows to over 60 feet (20m) tall with a handsome silhouette. 

I love the blossoms of this gorgeous evergreen, big as dinner plates with six petals. They are so fragrant that their sweet smell wafts over the entire area of their planting. I also appreciate that while the Southern magnolia flowers appear in spring, they continue flowering here and there all summer long. 

Magnolia Fruits

When the blossoms fade, they give way to fruiting clusters. Magnolia fruits appear as rounded cones as long as your palm. These mature in early fall, releasing individual seeds, each coated with rose-red fruity flesh hanging on slender threads. These seeds are beloved by birds who flock to eat them when they ripen. 

While there are many broadleaf evergreens to admire, the magnolia seems to deserve my vote. It has been around so long and offers so many sensory pleasures for the gardener. Despite its ornamental appeal, it is easy to grow, generally pest and disease free and a total joy in the backyard. 

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