The Magnolia Family

Saucer Magnolia American Tulip-tree Saucer Magnolia Star Magnolia

What are they?

There can be few people who are not familiar with magnolias - there must be one in almost every street in the region! Magnolias are truly spectacular when in flower, though late frosts can brown the peal edges some years. There are many magnolia species in North America and eastern Asia, from where they have been introduced as garden plants into Europe, with many hybrids and cultivated varieties having been created. This is one of the most primitive of flowering plant families with relatively unspecialised flowers; the sepals and petals are all rather petal-like and not differentiated from each other. In such a case, the petals and sepals are referred to collectively as a perianth (the outer three perianth segments on many magnolias are sepal-like but they typically drop off before the flower is fully open).

Where are they found?

These large trees and shrubs are all introduced as garden ornamentals in the UK and are likely only to be found where planted, in amenity areas, cemeteries and the like.

Identification

The Tulip-trees are distinctive in their leaves, which appear to have been clipped into a V at the tip. When in flower, their green and orange flowers are distinctive, too. Magnolias can be difficult, not least because of the great wealth of named cultivars, many of which barely differ from each other. Here, I have covered those species that might be encountered widely or which I have personally encountered in public spaces in the region. The flowers offer the best means of identification and you should check the number of perianth segments, their colour and their shape. If present, the appearance of seedpods can be useful.



American Tulip-tree      Liriodendron tulipifera

Introduced from North America as an ornamental. Occasional as an amenity tree on roadsides, in parks and in cemeteries. Flowers May to June. Capable of reaching 36m but often less. Readily told by the unique leaf shape. In winter, the leaf buds are distinctive.

American Tulip-tree American Tulip-tree American Tulip-tree American Tulip-tree
Flower
Leaf
Leaf
Young leaves
American Tulip-tree American Tulip-tree American Tulip-tree American Tulip-tree
Seed capsule
Winter bud
Winter bud
Bark


Saucer Magnolia      Magnolia x soulangeana

A hybrid raised in cultivation in France between two Asian species. Very common as a garden plant and occasional as an amenity tree in parks and in cemeteries. Flowers March to April. Eventually a broadly-spreading, multi-stemmed bush or small tree to 10m in height. Perianth segments relatively broad, typically nine, white, pinkish purple or a mixture of the two colours. Leaves large, 8-15cm or more in length.

Saucer Magnolia Saucer Magnolia Saucer Magnolia Saucer Magnolia
Habit
Flower
Flowers
Flower centre
Saucer Magnolia Saucer Magnolia
Winter leaf bud
Winter flower bud


Star Magnolia      Magnolia stellata

Introduced from Japan as a garden ornamental. Frequent as a garden plant and occasional as an amenity tree in parks and in cemeteries. Flowers March to April. A many-branched shrub to 3m in height. Perianth segments linear and strap-like, typically 12-33, white or pale pink. Leaves 6-13cm in length.

Star Magnolia Star Magnolia Star Magnolia
Flower
Flower
Flower centre


Kobushi Magnolia      Magnolia kobus

Introduced from Japan as a garden ornamental. Rare as an amenity tree in parks and in cemeteries. Flowers April. A large shrub or tree to 15m in height. Perianth segments typically six, white. Leaves 4.5-15cm in length. Seed capsules persistent, hanging, not upright.

Kobushi Magnolia Kobushi Magnolia Kobushi Magnolia Kobushi Magnolia
Habit
Flower
Flower
Flower centre
Kobushi Magnolia Kobushi Magnolia Kobushi Magnolia
Old seed capsule
Winter buds
Bark