Thursday, May 8, 2014

SEEN BEFORE GREEN – The Clever Allure of Magnolia

Magnolia, like azalea, rhododendron and camellia, is a flowering plant I've always associated with the south. Not Minnesota. But clever horticulturalists keep coming up with new, hardier varieties, bowing ever-farther north the lines on those growing zone maps gardeners refer to when looking for stuff that will survive their winters.

Zone-four-hardy magnolias first caught my eye because they produce their creamy, slightly lop-eared flowers before their leaves. I'd never seen that before, and I wondered why they do it.

            While its rivals worked on foliation, 
            Magnolia's flowers stole the show. 

It is an ancient genus, some members of its broader family dating from about 95 million years ago according to fossil records. That means they existed before bees showed up in Earth's stew of life. So perhaps that was the plant's first incentive to be creative, having to figure out how to attract beetles and other walking, crawling insects to pollinate it.

One way it gained a competitive edge over other plants was to pour all its spring energy into its flowers. This way, while its rivals worked on foliation, Magnolia's flowers stole the show. And to a bug, if one tree is sprinkled with pretty little flowers here and there between its leaves, and another looks like one gigantic flower, where are you going to go?

So, to this, the first blooming tree I've seen this long-overdue spring, thank you for that ancient ambition...and for luring this walking critter into the blushing center of your exuberant beauty!

Magnolia x loebneri 'Merrill'


Jan Johnsen said...

lovely! thank you!

Anonymous said...

Magnolia's seem quite excited and spirited to come out of the winter closet. Its as if they specialize in meeting new acquaintances and creating many friendships with the welcome mat that is their flowers. So their strategy is quite interesting... giving before receiving in that they don't require a build up of energy from any leaves at the onset of the spring season.... They certainly love that headstart though...

Jeffrey Willius said...

Thanks, Jan -- I hope there are magnolias -- and lots of other beautiful flowering trees -- where you are. Here in S. MN, we're eagerly awaiting the fragrant lilacs, which will probably be at least a week or two late this spring.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Hi Bern -- Spirited is a good word for it. I'll have to keep an eye on them and see how long after the flowers fade the leaves come out.

Ruthie Redden said...

Sucha beauty and a sight for sore eyes too. I always long for the stirring of blooms as Spring emerges.

Jeffrey Willius said...

In Scotland, do you pine for spring and summer like we do here in the northern U.S. I imagine you have the benefit of some warmer ocean currents to moderate your seasons. Is that right? Where you are, do you have winter, where the trees shed, and things freeze solid?

Ruthie Redden said...

I do indeed pine for the Spring and Summer Jeffrey, but you are right we have the gulf stream that makes a difference and really our Winters are fairly mild, though las year was an exception. I image from what you write that your Winters are severe? Winter is beautiful in its own right for I love the structural shapes the bare trees create, but Autumn is my favourite time for the incredible colours of the changing leaves.

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