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Ottawa Society of Botanical Artists

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Magnolia

AN ANCIENT SPECIES

STILL AMONGST US

Kristin Rothschild

Photo: © Jacqueline Fournier

Magnolia, var. Leonard Messel

The genus Magnolia is an ancient one and amongst one of the first flowering trees to evolve.  The earliest known fossils date from around 130 million years ago.

A happy chance

This small tree is a chance hybrid Magnolia resulting from a cross between M. kobus x M. stellata ‘Rosea’. It is a vigorous medium-sized deciduous shrub or small tree that grows in a compact and multi-stemmed habit up to 4-6 m tall and 3-5 m wide.

Blooming later than the earliest Magnolias, the flowers of ‘Leonard Messel’ are less susceptible than most Magnolias to late frosts.

Photo: © Kristin Rothschild

Photo: © Kristin Rothschild

Evolution and adaptation

As there were no specially adapted insect pollinators when these trees first appeared, the petals and reproductive structures had to be robust enough to survive the attention of clumsy bugs and beetles that weren’t intentionally pollinators.  To protect their reproductive structures, magnolias evolved tough leathery petals and carpels that have been passed on to our modern-day ornamental specimens.  

Magnolias slowly evolved to become more attractive to bees to ensure successful fertilization by these ‘smart’ pollinators.

Flower bud

Another aspect revealing the Magnolia to be of ancient lineage is that the flower bud is enclosed in a bract, or modified leaf, rather than in sepals.   In the magnolia, the outer parts of the flower are undifferentiated and are called tepals.

Photo: © Jacqueline Fournier

Photo: © Kristin Rothschild

Photo: © Kristin Rothschild

Structure of the blossom

Unlike modern flowers, magnolia flowers lack a distinct petal or sepal, having instead a combination of the two, called tepals, which open just like petals.  The stamens are spirally arranged at the base of the ovary, below the pistil. Opening from deep magenta buds, Magnolia var. Leonard Messel flowers are 4 in. across (10cm), with a delicate pink tinge on the inside of 12-15 narrow white tepals.  The flowers bloom profusely in early to mid-spring, before narrow, ovate leaves unfurl.

Plant parts

Leaves: The leaves are teardrop-shaped, opening bronze-green in spring, turning deep green as they mature, and then yellow before dropping in autumn.  Magnolia leaves are used to wrap food in Asia.

Branches/Bark:  The magnolia has brown or gray bark that is smooth when young, and scaly as the plant gets older.  Both the bark and flowers of the magnolia are used in traditional Asian medicines.

Roots: Magnolias have an unusual root system, mainly unbranched and ropelike. Their roots are close to the soil surface, within the top foot. The root system is wide spreading, extending from the trunk about four times the width of the canopy.

Photo: © Jacqueline Fournier

Photo: © Kristin Rothschild

Leaves

The leaves are teardrop-shaped, opening bronze-green in spring, turning deep green as they mature, and then yellow before dropping in autumn.  Magnolia leaves are used to wrap food in Asia.

Photo: © Kristin Rothschild

Branches and bark

The magnolia has brown or gray bark that is smooth when young, and scaly as the plant gets older.  Both the bark and flowers of the magnolia are used in traditional Asian medicines.

Reproduction

Pollinators:   Bees are now the main pollinators of the magnolia.  Magnolias don’t produce nectar but instead have pollen that is enriched with proteins, which bees use as food.

Photo: © Kristin Rothschild

Reproductive organs

The magnolia contains both male and female reproductive organs (monoecious).

Magnolias have numerous stamens located in a whorl at the base of the ovary, below the pistil.  In the magnolia, the pollen is received by the ovary, which is inside the pistal.  Once pollination has taken place, the pollen-producing stamens are shed, revealing the cone-like ovary where seeds form.

Photo: © Kristin Rothschild

Fruit

When pollination is successful, bright orange seeds develop in late summer and drop out from their follicles, often in the winter.  The seeds are a favourite food of many birds.

Photo: © Kristin Rothschild

Pollinators:   Bees are now the main pollinators of the magnolia.  Magnolias don’t produce nectar but instead have pollen that is enriched with proteins, which bees use as food.

The magnolia contains both male and female reproductive organs (monoecious).

Magnolias have numerous stamens located in a whorl at the base of the ovary, below the pistil.  In the magnolia, the pollen is received by the ovary, which is inside the pistal.  Once pollination has taken place, the pollen-producing stamens are shed, revealing the cone-like ovary where seeds form.

When pollination is successful, bright orange seeds develop in late summer and drop out from their follicles, often in the winter.  The seeds are a favourite food of many birds.

Photo: © Kristin Rothschild