Magnolia tree millions of years in the making

Magnolia Tree

The sheer variety of magnolia tree options might surprise you. Although your local garden center may handle only a few varieties, you can find magnolia trees that are deciduous and evergreen, if you really search. Some of the southern beauties have blossom options of white, pink, purple or yellow. Some magnolias are trees; some are shrubs.

One thing that these classic plants have in common is that almost all of the varieties have large, striking blossoms made up of huge petal-shaped pieces. Interestingly, these fragrant blossoms of the magnolia are not pollinated by birds or bees or butterflies, but rather by beetles.

Magnolia is an ancient genus, according to Wikipedia. They appeared before bees did. It is said that the flowers evolved to encourage pollination by beetles. Fossilized specimens of magnolia have been found dating to 20 million years ago. The fruit of the magnolia tree looks like a cone. But according to the U.S. National Arboretum, it is actually an aggregate fruit that is woody. This flowering fruit structure has changed little over millions of years. Songbirds especially like the seeds of the magnolia fruit.

Some folks see a certain vision in their mind when they hear the word “magnolia.” They think immediately of the native Magnolia grandiflora, the classic southern magnolia that has huge fragrant white blossoms and shiny, dark green leaves. This yummy variety is the state flower of both Mississippi and Louisiana. We all love this tree but it does have its drawbacks. The leaves drop 365 days a year, and the shade underneath is so dense that you can’t grow grass underneath it. Also, some yards are just not large enough for their eventual 40 foot width.

A smaller and still fabulous magnolia option is the Sweet Bay. This tree is usually evergreen in our area and easier to fit into most yards. One deciduous magnolia option is the popular saucer magnolia. You may know this tree by the name “tulip tree” because of the shape of the flowers and their bright colors. These trees are a wonderful import from western China and the Himalayas. Another deciduous magnolia option is the star magnolia or Loebner magnolia. They are cold hardy and heat tolerant, which should just about suit our Southeast Texas climate.

Magnolias like our rich, slightly acid soil as long as it is well-drained. Pick the planting site carefully because these trees are hard to move once established. The roots of the magnolia tree are very unusual. Their roots are mostly un-branched and like a rope. So they often suffer when moved after the trunk has grown 4 inches in diameter. Staking the new magnolias is a good idea to keep it from damage of heavy winds. Since their roots are sensitive, you should keep walkways away from the new plant. Prune infrequently and add organic material to the area when you can. I’m thinking … an icy glass of sweet tea or mint julep on a bench under the shade of your magnolia would be a great idea.