This magnolia has grand flowers and fine evergreen leaves
Posted: Tuesday, February 17, 2009 8:01 pm
By: By JIMMY WILLIAMS Special to The Messenger
Trees for posterity, they may be called. We have looked at some of them lately, and so far all of the long-lived species we have talked about have been deciduous, that is, leaf shedding, or not evergreen.
Let us conclude with one that is evergreen. Southern magnolia, Latin moniker Magnolia grandiflora, has been around a long time as a domesticated ornamental, much longer as a native to the southern United States. Many an old magnolia is found in swamps and on plantations alike to our south.
If ever a botanical name fit, this one does. The flower is indeed grand. What else could you call a pristine white bloom that reaches fully a foot across on occasion, with the most heavenly scent of lemon and sweet?
And those flowers on the southern magnolia are borne over a period of several weeks and, in some of the new varieties, repeated again sporadically in summer and fall.
This is not a tree to cram into some murky city plot hard up against a home. No, the southern magnolia demands a setting as befits its grandeur. A large property should have one or more, sited well away from the manor house. If you, less fortuitously, dwell in a Tennessee straight ranch house, don’t despair. A magnolia will do it good, too, but only if your grounds are adequate.
There are a number of reasons for getting this tree well away from habitation. For one thing (and just about its only fault) the tree is constantly dropping litter. Seed pods, leaves that seem to fall at the most inopportune times, and other debris muss up the ground below. This problem can be alleviated by allowing the lower branches to droop right to the ground level, thus hiding the mess. Never limb up a southern magnolia.
Then too, this tree, in its most often seen varieties, will grow to massive proportions. How many times do we see one (or, more unfortunately, a pair) of magnolias completely blocking a house, as a result of being wrongly sited. There’s a house hiding back there somewhere, be assured.
Most of the old southern magnolias seen here are straight seedlings of the species. They will grow, over time, to 50- or 75-feet tall and bear hundreds of blooms in a season.
Newer varieties, propagated by grafting to keep the strain pure, are improvements over the species. Since we’re looking here at large trees, we’ll give short shrift to smaller varieties such as Teddy Bear and Little Gem, which are excellent trees for closer quarters, growing to perhaps 30 feet.
Among modern large types is D.D. Blanchard. This one has very dark green leaves with orange-brown felty undersides.
It is a bit more columnar than seedling trees. A grove of these was planted last year at Holy Cross Catholic Church and in a few years should be making a statement. This one will eventually top out at perhaps 50 feet.
Edith Bogue is valuable for more northerly areas. It is the most cold hardy selection of a tree that is considered a southern staple. There is a group of Edith Bogue on the campus of the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana, just about the most northerly planting in the country except in coastal areas. For our climate, however, other varieties are to be preferred.
To realize the longevity of the southern magnolia, one only has to visit old cemeteries. There are in some of these venerable trees well over 100 years old, and still in viable, growing condition.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 2.17.09
Jimmy Williams, The Garden Path