Fragrant o’er all the western groves
The tall magnolia towers unshaded.
—Maria Brooks (1795–1845, American poetess)
At Green-Wood Cemetery, a National Historic Landmark in Brooklyn, the magnolia trees, with their large flowers in pink or white, were in full bloom during the past weekend. The display was magnificent throughout the cemetery’s grounds. Magnolia blooms are of two types. There is the star magnolia, with long-petaled blossoms; or the saucer magnolias, with large rounded petals. All those at Green-Wood are the saucer variety.
French botanist explorer, Charles Plumier (1646-1704) discovered the magnolia tree on the Caribbean island of Martinique, which France colonized. Plumier was the botanist to Louis XIV. The locals called it ‘talauma.’ He gave the species the genus name Magnolia, honorning Pierre Magnol (1638–1715), another French botanist. An English botanist, William Sherard (1659–1728) began using the genus name magnolia and adopted it for the tree and flower.
When the flower is not blooming, the leaves are equally attractive, being large leaves and evergreen color. Before the flowers burst forth, the cone-shaped buds are fruit that many animals eat. Magnolias come in the form of shrubs or trees. The trees can grow as tall as 60 to 80 feet; shrubs are smaller, reaching only 15 to 20 feet high when mature.
The magnolia flower represents nobility, perseverance, dignity and a love of nature. Magnolias are often used in floral arrangements, including wedding bouquets. They represent the bride’s purity and dignity. They are popular at weddings held in the southern U.S., because the flower has a strong identification with the South.
The magnolia is the harbinger of spring. It is the official state flower of Mississippi and Louisiana. Mississippi is called the nickname Magnolia State because it has an abundance of magnolia flowering trees. Mississippi has also designated the magnolia as its state tree. Houston, Texas styles itself as the Magnolia City because of the many magnolia trees growing in the city’s Buffalo Bayou Park.
A “steel magnolia” refers to the strength of a Southern woman. The phrase was popularized by the 1989 movie Steel Magnolias. The plot revolves around six Southern women who pass through various hardships but rise above them. The term refers to the delicate yet strong nature women have.
In China, magnolia flowers are symbols of purity and nobility. In Chinese art, the magnolia symbolizes feminine sweetness and beauty. The magnolia is used as a medicinal and ornamental plant in Japan, where the flower is called Hanakotoba. This means that the flower is sublime, natural and shows love for nature. Magnolias are linked to the life force and are presented at the birth of a child.
One of the most outstanding facts about the magnolia is that it is a very old flower. Fossil specimens have been found that show that the magnolia is nearly 20 million years. This flowering tree can last for centuries; it has adapted to climates and situations, making fairly easy to grow. With the proper type of soil, watering patterns, the right amount of sunlight, and proper drainage a magnolia tree will provide years of pleasure. Pollination for the magnolia is different from other flowers because they evolved before there were bees. They are pollinated by beetles. The flowers are not poisonous.