Posts Tagged Magnolia grandiflora

Magnolia Mania

Magnolia grandiflora blooms for several weeks in May-June.

Magnolia grandiflora blooms for several weeks in May-June.

I am a self-confessed obsessive gardener, meaning that I remain perpetually transfixed by the infinite beauty and variety of the botanical world. But beyond my general obsession, certain species of plants are special objects of my devotion. One plant family in that category: Magnolia.

Seriously, what’s not to adore? The trees are statuesque in their own right, and their flowers — oh, my goodness, the flowers. Plus, if you have room in your yard, as I do on my five-acre patch of Piedmont, you can plant an array of magnolias that will bloom from late winter right through early summer. Magnolia mania indeed!

In my yard, the show starts with Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star.’ The sweetly fragrant, strappy, white-petaled flowers on this specimen cover my 25-foot-tall tree in hundreds of blossoms. This one is a gamble in my climate, because of the hazard of late freezes. Most years, my Royal Star blooms are glowing in the barren late-winter landscape until a hard freeze turns them a sad brown. Sometimes, closed buds (so fuzzy I sometimes pet them as I would a feline friend) survive the chill to produce more white flowers amid the browned early victims. This year, however, was different. Somehow this year we had below-normal temperatures without sudden plunges into the deep freeze. My Royal Star Magnolia bloomed unblemished for six weeks — a record.

While Royal Star was still blooming, Magnolia acuminata ‘Butterflies’ opened its canary-yellow blossoms. My specimen tree is now at least 25 feet tall, maybe 30. This year, a warm spell caused the flowers almost simultaneously to open from the top of the tree to the bottom. The effect was staggeringly exquisite, not to mention almost overpoweringly fragrant, but short-lived. The flowers of Butterflies need a bit of chill in the air to keep them happy. Sudden warmth caused the petals to brown and fall a mere two days after the flowers had opened.

A week after Butterflies had come and gone, Magnolia acuminata ‘Elizabeth’ copied Butterflies’ performance. Two days of top-to-bottom pale yellow, sweet flowers (on a 50-foot tree) were followed by brown petals carpeting the ground beneath it. But those two days of peak bloom were spectacular. My long-time arborist happened to stop by that day for a tour of the yard. He and his companion pulled five feet in the driveway and stopped cold, their mouths agape, as they absorbed Elizabeth’s magnificence. They stayed there so long, I walked down to meet them, breaking their enthrallment with this captivating specimen.

You’ll find photos of the above beauties at the links provided. M. stellata is not native to North America, but M. acuminata is. Horticulturalists have long recognized the potential of M. acuminata, resulting in zillions of lovely cultivars. They are the mere beginning of the procession of magnolia loveliness in my yard.

I confessed a fondness (okay, obsession is probably a better word) with the native big-leaved magnolias when I told you about the single flower on our Bigleaf Magnolia last year here. But I grow three other native big-leaved species, and one of those bloomed for the first time this year.

Magnolia fraseri (Fraser Magnolia) occurs naturally in the mountains of North Carolina, its range extending a smidge into South Carolina, and further into states adjacent to NC to the north. In the wild, it can grow to 60 feet. I sited my specimen on the north side of my yard inside the deer fence beneath the shade of towering loblolly pines about 75 years old. My goal was to keep the tree cool during our hot summers. The tree put on quite a growth spurt last year, shooting up several feet. This spring, it produced seven flowers at the ends of its upper branches over the space of about three weeks. The flowers were sweetly fragrant, but they were too high up for me to photograph well. Here’s a long-range shot that at least gives you a side view:

As is true of all the big-leaved magnolia clan, the flowers are large.

As is true of all the big-leaved magnolia clan, the flowers are large.

Wonder Spouse broke out his big ladder to take some photos from above the flower, but I don’t think he ever sent me the results. I can at least show you the artist at work, about 8 feet off the ground:

Wonder Spouse scales new heights to photograph a Fraser Magnolia flower.

Wonder Spouse scales new heights to photograph a Fraser Magnolia flower.

That’s the top of a gate in our deer fencing at the bottom left. The deer fence is 8 feet tall.

About the time the Fraser Magnolia was blooming, I realized I had neglected to check on our specimen of the only big-leaved magnolia native to the eastern Piedmont: Magnolia tripetala, or Umbrella Magnolia. I rescued this tree from a friend’s family farm just before they sold it. I sited it right next to our creek on a high bank, where it gets plenty of moisture and protection from summer heat by a tall canopy of mature sycamores, birches, tulip poplars, sweet gums, red maples, etc. About fifteen years ago, it was eaten by beavers, but the base re-sprouted, and now the tree is about 25 feet. We surrounded the base with chicken wire to prevent damage from future beaver incursions (if you have water, they will always find you, eventually).

Umbrella Magnolia is so-called, because the large leaves are arranged in a circular fan-like display that absolutely looks like a leafy umbrella. And those giant leaves do a fine job of keeping one dry during light showers. As I feared, I had missed much of the flower display, but a few blossoms were just fading from white to parchment yellow. As with the Fraser Magnolia, the flowers were quite high up, so my photograph is from a fair distance away:

Magnolia tripetala flower fades to parchment yellow before it drops its petals.

Magnolia tripetala flower fades to parchment yellow before it drops its petals.

As the Fraser and Umbrella Magnolias were finishing their blooming cycles, my Ashe Magnolia began its show. This big-leaved beauty astonishes me every year. Last year, a late freeze killed the entire top of the tree. It was just putting out its tender first growth of the season, and the cold brutalized it. I shouldn’t have worried, though. This resilient smaller member of the big-leaved clan simply sprouted from its base. Magnolia ashei is known for its shrubbier form, and mine is true to that description. It’s also known for its prolific bloom production, which starts when the tree is quite young.  Here’s a shot far enough back to give you an idea of the form of my shrubby, lop-sided Ashe Magnolia:

The tip of every branch produced at least one flower. Many produced two flowers per branch tip.

The tip of every branch produced at least one flower. Many produced two flowers per branch tip.

If you have a more typical Piedmont yard, most of the big-leaved Magnolia clan might be too large for the scale of your landscape. But if you have a moist, shady spot and you’re willing to trade a floppy form for spectacular flowers and leaves, Ashe Magnolia is probably your best bet.

If you go to the link I provided for this species, you’ll see better photos of the flowers, but here’s one I took of this year’s final flower:

This year's final flower on Ashe Magnolia.

This year’s final flower on Ashe Magnolia.

The flowers of Umbrella Magnolia are supposed to smell a bit odd to many noses. Mine are so high up that I’ve never noticed much fragrance. However, the Ashe, Fraser, and Bigleaf Magnolias all produce potently sweet perfumes, not unlike the more familiar fragrance of the better-known Southern Magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, pictured at the top of this post. My Southern Magnolia is only just beginning her bloom period. She’ll likely perfume my front garden through early July.

I can’t close this lengthy post without showing you what the Bigleaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) produced for us this year — a least a dozen, maybe more, flowers! It’s gotten so tall that it’s hard to see what’s going on up there.

Wonder Spouse was so excited that he got back on the big ladder to document the occasion:

Sacrificing personal safety for his art, Wonder Spouse spent about a half hour documenting the Bigleaf Magnolia's floral display.

Sacrificing personal safety for his art, Wonder Spouse spent about a half hour documenting the Bigleaf Magnolia’s floral display.

Aerial shots really are best for showing off the flowers:

Note the giant leaves surrounding the flower. That's a quarter sitting on the lower petal.

Note the giant leaves surrounding the flower. That’s a quarter sitting on the lower petal.

Here’s a closer view:

The petals are as thick and creamy as those of our more familiar Southern Magnolia.

The petals are as thick and creamy as those of our more familiar Southern Magnolia.

That’s his quarter in there again for scale. Here’s what the flower buds look like before they open:

Impressive in their own right, don't you think?

Impressive in their own right, don’t you think?

And because a wind gust had pulled off a leaf, Wonder Spouse used his quarter to give you a sense of the size of individual leaves of Bigleaf Magnolia:

The leaves turn a lovely buttery yellow in the fall.

The leaves turn a lovely buttery yellow in the fall.

This post grows lengthy, so I’ll stop for now. But I should admit for the record that I can think of at least three more magnolia specimens in my yard that I haven’t told you about yet — one more native, and two choice Asian cultivars that still haven’t bloomed for me yet. More magnolia mania to look forward to!

My shot of one of the last Bigleaf Magnolia flowers as it fades to parchment yellow before dropping its petals to the ground.

My shot of one of the last Bigleaf Magnolia flowers as it fades to parchment yellow before dropping its petals to the ground.


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Refugee Refuge

Ripe Southern Magnolia Seed Cone

The Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) in our front yard is about 40 feet tall. It was there when we moved in 23 years ago, growing taller and wider all the time. In May, the heady perfume of paper-white blossoms beckons bees from miles around. The tree hums, fertilized flowers drop browned petals, leaving fattening seed cones to ripen. In late October, the seed cones open to dangle scarlet fruits on gossamer threads. And then the fun begins.

Just as potent a signal as the spring fragrance of the flowers are the gaudy fruits that adorn this tree in fall. Every fruit-loving animal in the neighborhood stops by when the plump red fruits are ready. Squirrels, possums, and raccoons all take their share, but many of the cones dangle at the end of branch tips too thin for mammals. These cones are for the birds.

Dangling from the ends of most branch tips, ripe cones beckon the winged ones.

Tufted Titmice and Chickadees chatter constantly as they cavort from cone to cone. They are often joined by warblers in dull winter plumage, making them harder to identify as they flit in the shadows cast by the Magnolia’s thick evergreen leaves. Woodpeckers — Red-bellied, Downy, Hairy, and the most raucous of all, Pileated Woodpeckers all stop by often, feasting messily on the Magnolia’s abundance.

The ground beneath the Magnolia is littered with fallen cones and dropped fruits.

When the Blue Jays want in on the action, they loudly imitate the call of the Red-Shouldered Hawk. Not wishing to take chances, the little birds all fly to deeper cover, giving the crow-sized jays easy access to the good eats.

Flocks of migrating robins settle onto our property for several days at a time, alternately feasting on the tree, splashing in the bird baths, and resting high in newly bare branches of forest canopy trees.

Migrating robins have a habit of dropping fruits (and feces) in the bird baths.

This week, I’ve noticed three bird species I only see during late fall and winter. The Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers started hitching up and down nut trees, tulip poplars, and magnolias about three days ago. These members of the woodpecker clan stay all winter, and we usually have several residents throughout this season.

The Dark-eyed Juncos showed up at the same time as the sapsuckers. This is unusually early for this species. I usually don’t see them until winter cold settles in for good — early December at the earliest.

And most unusual of all — Red-breasted Nuthatches are appearing at the feeders! We don’t see these lovely little birds every winter. Usually they only appear during profoundly cold winters full of deep snow, when our bird feeders become key to the survival of many feathered friends. I was stunned when I spotted one yesterday on the platform feeder dining on safflower seeds.

Although it’s been unseasonably cool here, it certainly isn’t truly cold, and the only early snows are in the mountains west of us. I think perhaps the northern migrants arrived early because of Hurricane Sandy. The after effects of this massive super storm that devoured the eastern seaboard last week are still causing much suffering in the northeastern US. Wonder Spouse and I have sent our donation to the American Red Cross, and we encourage everyone else to do the same if they can. Folks up north are going to need extra help for some time to come, especially with an autumn nor’easter heading their way later this week.

It’s easy to forget about the wildlife when human suffering is so evident. But those downed trees and drowned wetlands mean death and displacement to many birds and mammals. I think the birds that weren’t destroyed by the storm are opting to fly south ahead of their normal schedules, seeking havens in the southlands, where food and shelter remain fairly abundant.

It’s times like these that I am glad I’ve worked hard for two decades to enhance wildlife habitat — food and shelter — on our five acres of North Carolina Piedmont. Avian refugees are welcome to stay as long as needed. Feeders will remain stocked; bird baths will stay clean and full.

For every falling leaf of scarlet and gold, we send forth prayers for the recovery of humans and wildlife in devastated areas of the northeast — and anywhere else in the world where suffering prevails.

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You can’t start summer without this belle in bloom

Honeybees adore her

Wonder Spouse was wandering the yard with his superior camera this weekend, and I persuaded him to capture one of the open flowers on our large Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora). She has been perfuming our front yard for about two weeks now, and judging by the number of unopened buds, she will likely still be showing off when the Summer Solstice arrives in a couple of weeks.

Now that our mornings have turned characteristically humid (and absurdly hot), the cloying sweetness of these flowers smacks you in the face when you head out the front door, where the tree resides. And when the air is really thick — as it has been lately — it still manages to tickle the nose when you head out the back door. I find magnolia perfume overpowering up close, but it’s diluted just enough to make it pleasant as it travels over the roof and down to the back deck.

I told you all the reasons I love this tree (despite it’s potentially invasive nature) long ago here. But it wasn’t blooming when I wrote about this species, so I thought it deserved an entry now while it’s showing off.

I was beneath this tree this morning tending to some hydrangeas when I noticed quite a few small magnolia branches on the ground. I had not realized that those gosh darn periodical cicadas had laid their eggs on these branches too! My poor southern belle looks quite off her game with so many of her end branches broken off by the boring of all those ovipositors.

She’s a big tree, so I’m hopeful that she’ll recover, dignity and beauty intact. She’s got thirteen more years to grow enormous enough that the next round of cicadas won’t inflict so much obvious damage.

At least the cicadas don’t bother the flowers. That’s good news for the pollinators who crowd her open blossoms from dawn to dusk — especially the ever-diligent honeybees, who make my front-yard belle hum happily, as they dine upon her nectar.

Happy almost summer ya’ll.

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