Spring magnolia series winds down

Spring magnolia series winds down

Posted: Tuesday, March 15, 2011 8:02 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams

You’ve all been sitting on tenterhooks, I am sure, and waiting with bated breath from week to week to see which other magnolia I will tell you about in this series.
We’ve been talking about the spring blooming, mostly deciduous, magnolias, as opposed to the beloved evergreen southern magnolia which blooms later in the year. I have saved the best for last.
Among all the ornamental trees on our property, there are perhaps three or four that have achieved (ahem) knockout status, judging by the amount of traffic they stop.
One is Arnold Promise witch hazel, which has been stunning for the past month in our otherwise sere woodland, with its lemon yellow flowers. Another, over about the same span of time, has been a Japanese flowering apricot in our arboretum, so-called, west of our original lot. In this case the attraction is pink, and the flowers are relatively weatherproof, standing February and early March vagaries with aplomb.
And the third is that best spring magnolia I mentioned. We have a specimen of Elizabeth magnolia in our back garden, though visible from the street. It literally stops traffic when in full bloom in March (most years) or April.
Elizabeth magnolia is a hybrid between Magnolia acuminata and Magnolia denudata. It grows much taller than the more common spring bloomers like Magnolia soulangeana, the tulip magnolia. Our tree, in 10 years from a whip, is 30 feet or more tall, and I do believe, barring catastrophe, it will reach 50 feet. This stature helps make it so noticeable, even at a distance.
The leaves are excellent throughout the season, reaching six inches or more long and of a nice green, turning to burnished yellow, then tan, in the fall before shedding.
But the flowers are the raison d’etre. The winter’s furry buds slowly (or apace in unusually warm weather) open into elongated spears of yellow, then on into large flowers to eight inches across, of paler yellow, and eventually into a soft cream, just the color of that namesake from a Jersey cow.
In warm weather they are brief, in cooler weather longer lasting. When the temperatures cooperate to the ultimate (that is, remain cool, but not freezing) the bloom can go on for perhaps three weeks. It is during those weeks that autos slow, then stop, on our street to take in the picture.
Elizabeth is fast growing, but with strong wood, a not too common combination. She is suitable for a small-scale shade tree, but the sizable leaves (and falling petals) can constitute a brief problem in spring and fall. The quick growth should appeal to old people and those with little patience (sometimes one and the same), and, as well, flowers are presented at a young age.
Elizabeth is one of a relatively recent line of yellow flowering magnolias. Of the same parentage is Butterflies. It is of a more distinct yellow and doesn’t fade to cream as markedly. The flowers, however, are smaller and more squinny, with narrow petals. Yellow Bird has one of the same parents and is also darker yellow.
Unfortunately, these yellow magnolias aren’t common in nurseries. You simply must have at least one, so urge your dealer to order it or, heaven forbid, sink to mail order if absolutely necessary. The fast growth will offset some of the disappointment you will experience from the tiny stick you will receive.
From Poor Willie’s Almanack — A yellow magnolia is a must. If you don’t believe it, come see mine.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.

Published in The Messenger 3.15.11

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