More magnolias for your choosing

More magnolias for your choosing

Posted: Tuesday, March 8, 2011 8:01 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams

Depending on prevailing temperatures, some of the deciduous “spring” magnolias could burst into bloom any day. Those quotes are used advisedly. Since astronomical spring won’t kick in until March 20. It is not unusual at all to have some magnolia bloom before winter is out.
Among the earliest is the star magnolia, of which we spoke here a couple of weeks ago, a species, not a hybrid. It is Magnolia stellata.
Another early species, with pink to purple flowers, depending on the variety, is Magnolia lilliflora, the lily magnolia. The latter is not often seen except in the named varieties ‘Nigra’ (with darker purple flowers as the name implies) and Gracilis.
However, hybrids between the lily and star magnolias are plentiful in retail outlets and particularly in the “little girl” series. These, named after (guess who?) little girls, bloom early but generally a bit later than the star magnolia, mostly by early April here.
With the little girls, you take your pick and take your chances. They bloom at a young age and can often be purchased in bloom so that you can choose the color that suits you.
Colors range from pale pink to mauve and darker pink, approaching purple. The name of one of the “little girls,” which you will read on the label, will be Ann, Betty, Jane, Judy, Pinkie, Randy, Ricki or Susan. The label alone, unfortunately, isn’t always reliable and only by seeing them in the flesh can a wise color choice be made.
Another early blooming species is Magnolia denudata, the Yulan Magnolia. Not as precocious to bloom, often waiting seven years or more, it is, however, a larger and more statuesque tree, reaching sometimes 50 feet tall. It can even be grown as a small shade tree, with the flowers as a bonus.
Those flowers can be eight inches across when open flat. Before they get that far along they are erect and about four inches tall when closed. When open the bloom is white with a purple tint near the base. Leaves grow to five inches or so long. As with other early bloomers you take your chance with freezes.
If you are paranoid about those freezes, Magnolia macrophylla is your baby. Commonly called bigleaf magnolia, and for good reason, the leaves can be up to three feet (not inches) long. It’s not M. MACROphylla for nothing, and you don’t want to spend your autumn cleaning up after it. Plant it in woodland or some place where the leaves won’t present a problem.
Those leaves provide a tropical effect, and the tree is worth it as a curiosity to fool your friends. The flowers, though, are nothing to sneeze at and they are macro too, as much as 18 inches across and coming at a handy time in late spring, well after those frightening freezes. They, like most magnolia flowers, are delightfully fragrant.
Bigleaf magnolia is not for the impatient, growing slowly to 50 feet or more and often delaying bloom for 10 years or longer. In the meantime, you can impress people with your six foot shrub with three-foot leaves.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.

Published in The Messenger 3.8.11

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