Happy Birthday Magnolia!

Celebrating 100 Million Years

In Massachusetts, the magnificent magnolia tree ushers in spring with their beautiful
and fragrant blooms. While Plymouth is the epi-center of colonist antiquity, the
magnolia too is rich in history. Fossils of magnolia trees date as far back as
one hundred million years, making it one of the oldest flowering plants. Dinosaurs
roamed the earth at that time, but bees did not exist yet so how was the magnolia
actually pollinated?
“Magnolias evolved to be pollinated by ancient insects, you may know them today as
beetles,” writes horticulturist and writer Philip Evich for the Smithsonian Gardens. To
appreciate this fact, you have to understand the anatomy of the magnolia flower,
which contains both male and female reproductive organs. The female parts of the
flower, known as carpels, are very durable to prevent damage as the beetles chew
along seeking out the pollen. The carpels appear similar to the male parts of the flower,
known as the stamens, to force the beetles to stay longer on the flower to allow for
successful pollination.
Magnolia flowers will be open for business in the morning, making the stigmas (the
receptive tip of the carpel) available to receive pollen from the hungry beetles. “When
evening comes, the innermost tepals close around the carpel and trap the pollinating
beetle. While the tepals are closed, the beetle deposits pollen all over the receptive
stigmas. The stigmas then close and the anthers become active, covering the same
beetle in fresh pollen so that when the tepals open in the morning, it will fly out and find
another flower to pollinate,” writes Evich. The result of the flower’s opening and closing
activities is cross-pollination.
In the United States, there are eight species of magnolias (six deciduous and two
evergreens) that are native to our area and approximately 225 magnolia species of trees
and shrubs globally. Some magnolias will grow to 15 feet in height and are also known
for their oversized, leathery green leaves, which are meant to withstand damage from
the zealous beetles’ chewing. There are a few species that are ideal for containers,
such as the southern magnolia and the sweet bay, says design and sales specialist
Jeanne Tennison of Fairway Landscaping. “The benefit of these container magnolias is
they can be in the forefront of your garden area while in bloom and then moved to a less
prominent location during the down cycle of the blooming season,” she adds.

Some of the more popular species of magnolia trees in North America are the big-leaf
magnolia (M. macrophylla); the cucumber tree (M. acuminata) named appropriately for
its cucumber-shaped fruits; the southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) which is an
evergreen; the sweet bay (M. virginiana) which is also an evergreen species; the
Thompson’s magnolia (M. thompsoniana) and the umbrella tree (M. tripetala).
“Additionally, the Magnolia x soulangeana (Saucer magnolia), and Magnolia stellata
(Star magnolia) are the most common ornamental magnolias in eastern
Massachusetts,” says arborist Danny O’Toole.
The magnolia’s flower color is driven by its species and can be green, pink, purple,
yellow and white.

Magnolia Care
“Magnolia Scale is a persistent scale insect but can be kept in check with annual
treatments,” says arborist Danny O’Toole. A tell-tale sign of Magnolia Scale is a sticky
residue often called ‘honeydew,’ which the insects excrete while sucking in the plant
sap. Trees experiencing Magnolia Scale that are left untreated will likely be in much
poorer health he adds. Treatment for this insect issue is typically performed in May in
our area but is weather dependent.
While magnolias are naturally resistant to many diseases, the ones to watch for are
algal leaf spots, fungal leaf spots, wood rot and canker infections. With algal leaf spot,
you will see reddish-brown on the underside of the magnolia leaves that look more
alarming than they are for the tree. With proper watering and feeding, you
typically do not have to treat this disease. With canker, it’s as the name applies, an
infection that can cause a branch to die suddenly while the rest of the branches are
healthy. “Have the tree pruned and address any other areas that may be showing signs
of bark peeling or knots forming on the tree,” says Juan Rodriguez, Plymouth
Operations, Fairway Landscaping. Wood rot, however, is a more serious condition and
should be diagnosed and treated by an Arborist. The tree typically shows some signs
of wilting, which may impact the tree’s canopy or show areas leaking from the bark.
The resilience of the magnolia to many tree diseases and petulant insects is perhaps
why it has withstood the test of time and sets a biological chart for another million

[SIDE BAR (if space allows)]
Magnolia Lovers Tour
For those who especially love magnolia blooms, like this writer, here are some of the best locations
to view magnolias in Boston:
 Commonwealth Avenue Mall, Back Bay (Closest T-Stop: Hynes Convention Center or
 Marlborough Street, Back Bay (Closest T-Stop: Hynes Convention Center or Arlington)
 Beacon Street, Back Bay (Closest T-Stop: Hynes Convention Center or Arlington
 Brookline’s Beacon St. shortly after Washington St.(Closest T-Stop: Tappan Street)

(source: Roaming Boston)