One type of plant which I really did not know when I was growing up were broad-leaved evergreens. You know the kind I mean, the leaved trees and shrubs which do not shed their foliage in autumn. I grew up in an area where this kind of plant had to grow below the snow line, the only native plant which fitted into this category were less than 30cm(12in.) high. Here in the mild west coast there are many broad-leaved evergreens, most are shrubs with only a few trees. One of these trees which I first saw in Vancouver was the impressive and beautiful Magnolia grandiflora (Southern Magnolia).
Southern Magnolias are indeed true southerners as they grow in the south-eastern United States from Florida up the coast to Virgina and west through Arkansas and Texas. It is a wide area and is found in a variety of locations which all usually have increased moisture. Often they are found on the edges of water, and swamps, along slopes and ravines and in floodplains, all these sites are good sources of water which are quickly drained.
Magnolia grandiflora was first brought to the garden world in 1726 by Mark Catesby(1682-1749). he was an English naturalist and always had an interest in collecting oddities. To this end he travelled to Virginia to visit his sister in 1712. While he was there he collected seed and plant samples which he brought back to a nursery in London in 1719. In 1722 he was selected by the Royal Society to collect plant samples in Carolina. Catesby again came to North American and collected plant and bird samples from the east coast and the West Indies. From his samples he later published ‘Natural History’ in folio style between 1733 and 1746. This folio was the first of its kind and was very influential. Many of his specimens ended up in the collection Hans Sloane who later gave everything to the British Museum.
Magnolia grandiflora has in the past been an important source of timber and was used in many ways; for furniture, boxes, venetian blinds, sashes, doors and veneers. The characteristic qualities of the wood are that it is fairly hard, stiff and has little shrinkage. The wood has a pleasing color with the sapwood being of a pale yellow tone and the heartwood being a deeper brown. The tree itself is one of several Magnolia species which were used in North America in a medicinal way. The foliage is now used by florists who appreciate its sturdy quality and the beautiful rust colored indumentum on the undersides of the leaves.
Magnolias are a very ancient plant and their seed heads have an almost reptilian quality to them, although here I have never seen ripened seed of Magnolia grandiflora. They seem to have evolved before bees existed and the flowers are designed to be pollinated by beetles. The name ‘Magnolia’ refers to Pierre Magnol who was a French Botanist who was the first person to use the concept of plant families for classification purposes. ‘Grandiflora’ not surprisingly refers to the giant sized flowers.
We are lucky to be able to grow such interesting plant like the Southern Magnolia and to see their magnificent blooms. These are trees which can grow to 27m(90ft) in the wild but rarely gets anywhere near that in a garden setting. The tree developes an attractive pyramidal form as it ages which makes it a good choice for the home garden. My sister has a postage-stamp size front yard and here their Magnolia grandiflora fits in beautifully. Some people complain about the fact that it sheds its leaves slowly during the year, this is common for all broad-leaved evergreens.
When choosing a site for your Southern Magnolia you need to select your site carefully. This will over time become a large tree, so not too close to a building is best. They have very brittle roots so only plant this tree only once, do not replant it later if at all possible as it might not survive the move. The roots are shallow and do not like to be damaged, care must be taken when planting under this type of tree, a simple groundcover or even grass is best. They like a nutrient rich, well draining soil. Pruning can be done during early spring but rarely need it except for shaping or removal of damaged limbs. Few pests or disease effect this tree or damage its foliage.
Magnolia grandiflora are said to be hardy to -20c(-10f) or rated at zone (6)7-11. There are forms which are especially hardy and grow in colder areas such as Ontario and Ohio, ask at your local nursery for forms which are best for your site. In the colder zones they can be damaged by drying winds when the ground is frozen as they are unable to get water to their leaves, this is a common problem for broad-leaved evergreens. Choosing a site which is protected from these winds will help solving the problem.
On the Southern Magnolia Route:
Wiki has a lot of interesting information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnolia_grandiflora
You will enjoy the work of Mark Catesby: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Catesby
Check out my article about ‘Million Year Old Magnolias’: http://namethatplant.wordpress.com/2009/04/20/multi-million-year-old-magnolias/
Botanical scientific information about this tree: http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=1&taxon_id=200008470
Until I see you on my blog again….soon I hope!