Last we left Louisiana, we speculated that maybe two sections were needed to cover the Cajun State Flower – the Magnolia – as well as the State Wildflower – the Louisiana Iris. The short story on the “Louisianan Irises” was long on detail and short on Magnolias so here we are thinking our way through a presentation on the Magnolia – a stately tree with an oversized blossom and a captivating summer scent. If you are a Southern native or visit the South during Spring and Summer, and all of us fall into one of those two caegories, then your brain has catalogued the Magnolia blossom sight and scent into a pleasant experience bar none.
Magnolia grandiflora is a medium to large evergreen tree which may grow 120 ft tall. It typically has a single stem (or trunk) and a pyramidal shape. The leaves are simple and broadly ovate, 5 to 8 in. long and 2 to 5 in. broad, with smooth margins. They are dark green, stiff and leathery, and often scurfy underneath with yellow-brown surface hair.
The large, showy, lemon citronella-scented flowers are white, up to 12 in. across and fragrant, with six to 12 petals with a waxy texture, emerging from the tips of twigs on mature trees in late spring. Flowering is followed by the rose-coloured fruit 3 to 4 in. long, 1 to 2 in. in wide.
.The national champion is a specimen in Smith Couty, Mississippi,, that stands an incredible 121 ft.
Another record includes a 115 ft high specimen from the Chickasawhay District in Mississippi, which measured 18 ft in circumference at breast height, and a 95 ft tall tree from Baton Rouge, which reached 18 ft in circumference at breast height. Andrew Jackson planted a Southern Magnolia on the White House grounds that lived until the latter part of the twentieth century and many White House photographs show the tree in all its glory.
The blossom is our star here and we need to look at it closely. This example has 9 petals and a stiff golden stamen center. It is thought that the stiffness is protection against large beetles which are attracted to the blossom day and night.
There are a hundred plus Magnolia species worldwide and several native varieties. One of my favorites which grows throughout the Smoky Mountains is the Bigleaf Magnolia. It has the largest leaves of any plant in temperate North America and in the Fall, it is easy to think of newspaper sheets strewn across the ground as the leaves fall. The undersides are white adding to the effect.
The Umbrella Magnolia is easy to recognize as its parasol grouped leaves form a perfect circle. It also lives in scattered locations in the deep forests of Appalachia.
The Yellow Poplar or Tulip Tree is one of my favorites and suprisingly few people have ever seen its pretty bloom as it is well camouflaged. It is a member of the Magnolia extended family and its red-peppered seed pods are a clear give-a-way.
A more showy white blossom surely does not exist than the Southern Magnolia and add to that its close ties in the history of the South, and we have a noble selection as the state flower of Louisiana.
Now we are headed to the far Northeast where the state flower is not a flower! No blossom, no stamens, no petals — What?! How can it be a “state flower”?