Star of 4th St. NYC (Magnolia)

By April 13, 2013Flower Talk
Magnolia on 4th street NYC

Every once in a while we plan to write about the representations, care or story of the flowers we use. Writer, Laurie Needell does a little digging and exploring to perhaps uncover the history of our featured blooms or remind us how those gorgeous blooms were portrayed in a famous film or memorable line of poetry. So here is the first installment in that effort. Let us know what you think or if you know of a connection that rings true for you and leaves an imprint on your life, be sure to contact us and reply.

Magnolia on 4th street NYC

There’s nothing subtle about the magnolia.

You’ve probably noticed the Star Magnolia, one of the earlier blooming varieties, as it popped up around town. It has white flowers, sometimes touched with pink, with abundant thin petals. They resemble stars in the same way that fireworks do–an explosion of color spinning off the center. The Star Magnolia blossom has a looser feel than the later-flowering magnolias. As much as I love the Star, the Saucer Magnolia is the flower I see when I hear “magnolia.” The blossoms are large cups, tuliplike, in shades of white, pink and purple. The flowers grow to nine or ten inches across, though the largest variety (the cultivar “Grace McDade”) boasts blooms up to fourteen inches. No other non-tropical flower can match the magnolia in size.

If you ask a Southerner what they see when they hear “magnolia,” they will almost certainly describe the Southern native Magnolia grandiflora. Unlike the deciduous Saucer and Star, the Southern magnolia is an evergreen. The scent defines a Southern spring; both Mississippi and Louisiana claim it as their state flower.

Though the magnolia is one of our most ancient plants, (magnolia fossils over one hundred million years old have been found) the tree’s evolution owes much to people. The beloved Saucer magnolia is a hybrid developed by a French veteran of the Napoleonic wars, Etienne Soulange-Bodin. Plant breeders are always seeking novelty and the latest efforts have focused on color. The first yellow magnolia was a Brooklyn baby. “Elizabeth” was introduced by the Brooklyn Botanical Garden in 1978; now there are more than thirty yellow magnolia hybrids available and the race is on to develop the first true red magnolia flower.

Bring a magnolia branch inside. It can summon the most ancient past or the most modern moment. Best of all, it can summon spring.

Laurie Needell