Magnificent Magnolias

One tree/shrub that should be in every garden is the magnificent magnolia.  Ranging in size from compact shrubs like M. stellata to large majestic trees like M. grandiflora, there is a magnolia for every size garden.

Magnolia grandiflora blossom

Magnolias have an ancient lineage.  Fossil records show magnolias first came on the scene over 100 million years ago across North America and Europe. Back then there were no bees so it was thought the thick waxy petals evolved to hold the weight of beetle pollinators.  They spread and diversified as the continents drifted apart and are now found in North, Central and South America, parts of the Caribbean, and Asia.  In 1737 Carl Linnaeus, the eminent Swedish botanist and “father” of taxonomy named the family Magnolia after the French botanist Peter Magnol.

Magnolia soulangea

There are over 200 flowering plant species in the subfamily Magnolioideae of the family Magnoliaceae, relatives of whom include the native Liriodendron or Tulip tree.

For the smaller garden, look for M. stellata varieties and the “Little Girl” and “Little Boy” series of M. soulangea.  With names like Ann, Susan, Ricki and Randy, you may even be able to plant a namesake!  Many magnolias grow to 6 – 10m (20-30ft) and wide, perfect for a front yard specimen tree or larger shrub border.  They come in every shade of whites through pinks, purplish pinks, yellows and some newer ones like “Genie are a rich deep red and many are wonderfully fragrant to boot.

Citrus scented M. loebneri “Merrill”
M.stellata or star magnolia

Larger specimens include M. brooklynensis “Yellow Bird”, a lovely bright yellow magnolia that can grow to 15m (40ft) but is relatively narrow and M. soulangeana “Rustica Rubra” that can grow as wide as it is tall at 10 by 10m (30 x 30ft). Give it space to spread and it will make a stunning specimen tree

M. Yellow Bird and flowers below


M. Rustic Rubra in bloom and flowers below


If you live in a colder area, be sure to get a later blooming magnolia so the flowers won’t freeze as often.  I live in zone 5b but my pink star magnolia which blooms in April can suddenly turn into a sodden mess of frozen petals with a cold snap.  A lovely later variety is M. “Sunsation” with yellow, pink flushed flowers.

M. ‘Sunsation”

Having been around for so long, magnolias are pretty much pest free, but always keep an eye out for any problems as our quickly changing climate and milder winters can suddenly bring on surprises.  So while dreaming and planning your garden for this year, make sure to include at least one of these ancient amazing plants.                                                               Happy gardening! 🙂

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