Monday, 13 April 2009
When I think of spring flowers, visions of vibrant muscari, tulips and hyacinths popping up from a dormant garden always come to mind. When I think of springtime flowering trees, those ethereal cherry trees with their endless blossom covered branches are number one in my book as the top swoon worthy perennial. But I can be fickle and must not forget good old forsythia, a plant whose branches I can never force enough of each January to erase my winter blahs. Of course there is also that romantic, perfumy lilac, and eye catching red bud, and well.. the list goes on. It seems when the topic of spring flowering beauty comes up, I am always reminded that the list is a long one with so many varieties that deserve equal recognition.
The Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana) is one of those flowering trees I just seem to take for granted. That was until I went for a long walk in my neighborhood last week and was overwhelmed by their presence.
Also known as the Tulip Tree, this magnificent neglected beauty is one of spring's largest trees that produces some of the most beautiful and enormous blooms that are both only eye-catching and insect attracting. This deciduous tree is also known for as one of spring's messiest trees; when the petals drop, the clean-up can be fierce and dangerous, especially if the ground or hard surface beneath is damp.
However messy the Saucer Magnolia can be, I prefer to highlight its positive traits, such as its intense color transformation from bud to flower. Saucer Magnolias are early bloomers that begin to show in early to mid March with fuzzy buds. And the good news is these branches can be forced to bloom early, a fact I did not know until recently. Once in bloom, the petals are rich hues of either white or pink and can grow to 10 inches. There are more than a dozen cultivated varieties of this species, and they show up in all regions of our state--from the southeastern shore, all the way up to northwestern parts of Maryland. While they aren't as common as Bradford Pears or cherry trees, they can be found in neighborhoods and cities, although are less frequently seen along highways and roadways, as they are a non-native species of magnolia. Some varieties can grow up to 25 feet.
The Saucer magnolia begins its blooming with dullish gray buds that swell up a good bit before yielding any color. Once the bloom starts to crack open, it isn't long before it converts into its famous magnolia sized flower. It's a fast growing process and if it's warm out, the fragrant flowers will attract beetles, bumblebees, flower flies and a few types of stink bug and leafhoppers.
I am fortunate to live in an old neighborhood called Catonsville (in Maryland) that planted hundreds of Saucer magnolias years ago. After researching these stately beauties, I now see them all over, and they are taller than the credited 25' most garden manuals claim. The one in our community are also quite fat, a trait I admire greatly in a plant.
Weather permitting, the blooms can last up to three weeks, but they are often cut short by March winds and April showers. Frosts can be deadly to the blooms as well. But if you are lucky to have this tree planted in your yard, it's hard not to fall in love its majestic flowers and "pink petal snow" that comes at the end of its growth cycle.
Cool Facts about the Saucer Magnolia:
- Tolerates poor soil and air pollution.
- Area wildlife uses the larger dead branches of the Saucer Magnolia for nesting sites, and the sprouts of young trees are browsed.
- 'Magnolia' was named after a 17th century French botanist named Pierre Magnol.
- x soulangiana is named after Frenchman, Etienne Soulange-Bodin, who raised the original hybrid of this plant on his plantation in France.
LOCATIONS: Catonsville, Arbutus, MD
PICTURES BY: The Flower Spy