The Magnificent Magnolias
Part III: Genus Magnolia

he Geneva campus has several species of the genus Magnolia that develop large white or pink flowers in early spring. This early flowering before the leaves is one of the things that distinguishes members of the genus Magnolia from its Liriodendron cousins. It is a common spring sight to see the large showy flowers of the widely-planted hybrid saucer magnolia [Magnolia x soulangeana, (M. denudata x M. liliflora)] throughout the eastern United States. Our campus has two saucer magnolias, one located in the middle section of the Rock garden next to the gold fish pond (now a tulip bed), the other planted at the west entrance of the Food Science Building as a memorial to Audrey Gardner. This small deciduous tree or shrub may reach 20­30 ft in height. Saucer magnolia has bright pink-to-purple saucer-shaped flowers (with surprisingly white interiors) that can be up to six inches in diameter. Although these are very stunning flowers to look at, they have little or no fragrance to accompany all that beauty. Flowers open in late April to early May. Another distinctive feature of these flowers is that they are enclosed within large furry buds, which are covered by a single bud scale.

Saucer Magnolia

Our one magnolia native to this region of the country is Magnolia accuminata, or cucumber tree. Our only example is located on the lawn of the campus warehouse. This species grows to be a medium to large tree with a wide rounded crown that reaches 50-80 ft in height. Its 3-inch-long cup-shaped, yellow-green flowers appear in May after the leaves. It gets its common name, cucumber tree, from the appearance of its fruit when young and green.

Cucumber Tree

Two other magnolias in our campus collection are Kobus magnolia and star magnolia, both natives of Japan. OurMagnolia kobus is also located on the campus warehouse lawn. Its flowers are 4-5 inches wide, appearing in May before the leaves. Flowers are white with a purple base and are star-shaped. This species may be a tree or small shrub reaching 30 feet. The star magnolia, Magnolia stellata, is planted in several locations across campus . You may see its cheerful white blossoms at both side entrances of Hedrick Hall and on the lawn of the Food Science Building. The tree's abundant flowers are double-petalled and very fragrant, appearing as three-inch stars with faint pink streaks in late March or early April before the leaves. The star magnolia is a slow growing, compact, and often wide-spreading shrub or small tree that may eventually reach 15 ft in height. Both Kobus and star magnolia flower buds, while not as large as those of the saucer magnolia, are also densely hairy. The above two species make a great accent for a dark wall or background with their white spring flowers, light green leaves and red and black winter fruit. There is also a more shrub-like pink cultivar of star magnolia, Magnolia stellata var. rosea. Rumor has it that Spring has not come to Geneva until it snows at least once on the star magnolia blossoms!

Star Magnolia

All of our magnificent magnolias make a nice addition to the home landscape and are not difficult to grow if planted in a rather sunny area that offers some protection from the north and east. They prefer rich well-drained garden soil with high organic matter. One caution, however - once planted, do not disturb the root systems, not even to plant spring bulbs!

by Cathy Heidenreich

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Last modified January 21,1998