The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Magnolia

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The American Cyclopædia
Magnolia
Edition of 1879. Written by George ThurberSee also Magnolia on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

MAGNOLIA, a genus of trees and shrubs dedicated by Linnaeus to Pierre Magnol, professor of botany at Montpellier, France, at the close of the 17th century, and who was the first to apply the term “family” to designate groups of botanical genera. The genus is the type of the Magnoliaceæ, a family as to the limits of which botanists are not agreed; as accepted by Bentham and Hooker (Genera Plantarum), it includes nine genera, four of which, Magnolia, liriodendron, illicium, and schizandra, are represented within the United States. In Magnolia there are fourteen species, six of which belong to Japan, China, and the Himalayas, and the remainder to North America, including Mexico. While a few are low shrubs, the majority are fine trees, some reaching the height of 50, 60, and even 100 ft.; there are both evergreen and deciduous species, and nearly all are ornamental by reason of their fine foliage and flowers. The leaves are alternate, sometimes so crowded upon the stem as to appear whorled, entire, furnished with stout petioles, which when they fall leave broad scars upon the stems; the leaves proceed from cylindrical, acute buds, the integuments or protecting bud scales of which consist of the large deciduous stipules, which are adherent to the base of the petioles; the stipule of each leaf envelops the succeeding leaf next above it, which is folded lengthwise and rests against the next stipular sheath, and so on; the stipules fall away as the leaves unfold. The flowers, usually large, are solitary and terminal, and are white, greenish yellow, or purple; they have three petal-like sepals, which fall early, and six to twelve petals in two to four series; the numerous stamens are in many series upon the base of the receptacle, which is prolonged into the centre of the flower; the anthers are linear, longer than the filaments, and open inward; the pistils are numerous, consisting of a one-celled, two-ovuled ovary, pointed with a short style; they are densely crowded upon the upper part of the receptacle; in maturing, the ovaries become red, fleshy, and coalesce to form a compound cone-like fruit; when ripe each carpel (ovary) opens and liberates the two seeds, which have a fleshy bright red coat, and are for a while suspended by extensile cobwebby threads, which the microscope shows to be uncoiled spiral vessels. Bitter and somewhat aromatic properties pervade the genus, and the flowers of some species are highly fragrant. —


AmCyc 1879 Magnolia - Laurel Magnolia.jpg

Laurel Magnolia (M. glauca).


Our most widely distributed species is the small or laurel magnolia, or sweet bay (M. glauca), growing in swamps from Cape Ann, Mass., to Florida, usually not far inland; in its northern localities it is only a shrub or low tree with numerous stems from the same root, and is deciduous; but in some of the southern states it grows 50 ft. or more high and becomes an evergreen. The bark of the young shoots is green, and the oblong leaves are dark green above and pale or glaucous beneath; the globular white flowers are about 2 in. across and delightfully fragrant. The fruit is 2 in. long. The bark of the root, the cones, and the seeds, made into a tincture with spirits, are popularly used in some parts of the country as a remedy in rheumatism, and have also been successful in diseases of a typhoid character in the hands of physicians. In the southern states, where the tree grows sufficiently large, the wood has been used for finishing the interiors of houses, for furniture, and similar work; it is of a mahogany color and takes a good polish. The terminal shoots, bearing a flower and a cluster of leaves, are sold in large numbers in the streets of New York and other cities. Like many other plants which grow naturally in swamps, the small magnolia flourishes when transferred to the drier soil of the garden, and may be trained to form a perfectly symmetrical little tree. It is surprising that a native plant of such great merit should be so seldom seen in cultivation; there is a popular impression that it is difficult to manage, which is no doubt due to the fact that large numbers of plants, pulled up rudely from the swamp, are each year sold in cities by itinerant vendors; such plants when set out are sure to die. All of the magnolias are difficult to transplant from their native localities, but trees raised from the seed in nurseries, and several times transplanted, are quite sure to succeed. The manner of propagating the species in general will be found below. This species blooms when only 4 or 5 ft. high; it has produced several garden forms, which differ from the original in the size and shape of their leaves; one of these, Thompson's magnolia (M. Thompsoniana), is said to be a hybrid between M. glauca and some other, but it is apparently only a large-leaved variety; it is valuable on account of its fine foliage and long continued bloom. The next northernmost species, known as the cucumber tree (M. acuminata), is found from western New York westward to Illinois and southward to Georgia, and with one exception is the largest of all our magnolias, reaching from 60 to 90 ft.; it grows rapidly, assumes a fine shape, and its abundant foliage renders it valuable as an ornamental or shade tree; the leaves are thin, 5 to 10 in. long, oblong, pointed, and slightly downy beneath. In this species the flowers add nothing to the beauty of the tree; they are bell-shaped, about 3 in. broad, and consist of twisted or straggling glaucous green petals which are tinged with yellow; the fruit, which is about 3 in. long, resembles when young a small cucumber; the wood is like that of the tulip tree, but is less valuable, and with builders ranks in usefulness with that of the linden; it is somewhat used for the inside work of houses; in the western states it is valued above all other woods for making pumps and for pipes for conveying water. The great-leaved magnolia (M. macrophylla) is a still more southern species, S. E. Kentucky being its northernmost locality, whence it extends to Georgia and Florida, but is rare everywhere; it grows to the height of 30 or 40 ft., its trunk and branches clothed with a white bark. This species is the most remarkable in the genus for the size of its leaves and flowers; the ovate-oblong leaves are narrow and heart-shaped at the base and from 2 to 3½ ft. long; the petals are 6 in. long, and the open, bell-shaped flower 8 or 10 in. across, pure white, with a purple spot at the base of each petal, and somewhat fragrant; fruit ovate, It is quite hardy in New York and in some parts of New England, and is worthy of being planted wherever it will endure the climate. The umbrella tree (M. umbrella), also a large-leaved species, has York and Lancaster counties, Pa., for its northern limit, and is found in most of the southern states; it rarely exceeds 30 ft. in height; the leaves are pointed at ends and from 1 to 8 ft. long; as they are crowded in a circle at the ends of the irregula branches, the tree presents the appearance expressed in its common as well as its specific name; the flowers are 6 to 8 in. broad, pure white, and have a sweet, heavy odor, which is disagreeable to most persons; its large, rose-colored cones are 4 to 5 in. long and showy. Being a rather straggling tree, it can hardly be considered as very ornamental, although it is an interesting species; it is hardy near Boston; it was formerly called M. tripetala. The ear-leaved umbrella tree (M. Fraseri, and formerly M. auriculata) occurs in Virginia, Kentucky, and southward along the mountains; it grows 40 to 50 ft. high, and though it has some resemblance to the preceding, it is handsomer in all respects; its oblong-obovate or spatulate leaves are auricled or have an ear-lobe-like appendage on each side at the base; they are seldom over a foot long, and are crowded at the ends of the branches in an umbrella-like cluster; the flower is about 6 in. across, white and pleasantly fragrant. The only other deciduous native species is the yellow cucumber (M. cordata), a native of North Carolina and Georgia; it grows 40 or 50 ft. high, and has oval or roundish leaves, sometimes slightly heart-shaped at base, about 6 in. long; the flowers are 4 to 5 in. wide and of a lemon-yellow color, which contrasts finely with the rich green of the foliage; though a peculiarly southern species, this has proved hardy in New England. —


AmCyc 1879 Magnolia - Great-flowered Magnolia.jpg

Great-flowered Magnolia (M. grandiflora).


Our only perfectly evergreen species is the great-flowered magnolia (M. grandiflora), also called the great laurel magnolia, which grows from North Carolina to Florida and westward to Louisiana. Probably no other American tree has had so much written in its praise as this and it is deserving of all the encomiums that have been bestowed upon it; for whether we regard it as a forest tree or as a garden ornament, it is unsurpassed for nobleness and beauty. It reaches its greatest perfection in light fertile soils, and those who have only seen the few poor starved specimens that linger along on its northern limits can have no idea of the beauty of well developed specimens. In grows to the height of 60 to 100 ft., and when not crowded by other trees assumes a form as regularly pyramidal as if it had been shaped by art; its oblong or obovate leaves are very thick and leathery, of the darkest shining green above and rusty-colored beneath, from 6 to 12 in. long; the flowers, 6 to 9 in. across, are of the purest white and deliciously fragrant; they are produced during April and May, and after they are gone the red cones show with fine effect against the dark-green foliage. The flowers turn brown in fading, and the slightest injury to the petals shows itself as a brown spot; if the petals of this or any others of the white-flowered magnolias be written upon with a sharp point, the writing will soon become legible in distinct, dark-brown characters. In some situations in England this tree endures without protection, but generally it needs the shelter of a wood or buildings; in this country Philadelphia seems to be its northern limit, and there its flowering is of rare occurrence; in more northern localities it must be regarded as a greenhouse plant; in those states where it will not only live but thrive, it is deservedly popular, whether planted as single specimens or to line an avenue. A number of well marked varieties have been raised from seeds, differing from the type in form of the leaves, size of the flowers, and other particulars; one of these raised in Georgia is an almost continuous bloomer. —

AmCyc 1879 Magnolia - Magnolia conspicua.jpg
Magnolia conspicua

Several of the exotic species are common in cultivation, while others, at the north at least, are only greenhouse plants; some botanists have placed these in separate genera, but they are proper magnolias. The best known of these is the Yulan (M. conspicua), a Chinese name signifying lily tree, which is often met with as a shrub flowering when only 3 or 4 ft. high, but which grows to a handsome tree of 30 to 50 ft.; the flowers, which appear in early spring (April), before the leaves, are large, white, and fragrant; the leaves are obovate, pointed, and downy when young; the fruit, by the suppression of some of the carpels, is often contorted into most grotesque shapes. This tree is quite hardy in a much colder climate than that of New York, and for its large, early, fragrant flowers is a favorite with many, while others object to it on account of its naked appearance when in flower; there is a celebrated specimen near Newburgh, over 30 ft. high, symmetrical in form, and when in bloom its flowers are estimated by thousands. It is a great favorite with the Chinese, who dwarf it, as they do other trees, by cramping the roots in small pots. A row of seedlings of this magnolia presents a great variety in foliage, and some of these are retained in cultivation under distinct names. The purple magnolia (M. purpurea) is a native of Japan; in cultivation it seldom reaches above 10 ft.; it has the same habit of early flowering with the preceding species; the large flowers are pinkish purple outside and white within; the leaves are of a bright dark green; it is somewhat less hardy than the preceding, and in cold localities is treated as a greenhouse plant. Soulange's magnolia (M. Soulangeana of the nurseries) is a hybrid between the two just noticed; the tree has the habit and hardiness of M. conspicua, while the purple tinge in the petals shows its relationship to M. purpurea. Lenne's magnolia, of comparatively recent introduction, is supposed to be a variety of M. purpurea, from which it differs in its finer foliage and larger and more deeply colored flowers. Several other species or varieties of this group are in cultivation, but their value remains to be ascertained. There are a few other exotic species, but they are rare in our gardens. Campbell's magnolia (M. Campbellii), of the Sikkim Himalayas, is described as a large tree with fine foliage, and crimson and white flowers rivalling those of M. grandiflora in size and exceeding them in beauty. M. Kobus and M. obovata are Japanese species grown in greenhouses. M. fuscata is a small evergreen shrub with much the appearance of a camellia; its brown stems are hairy, and its flowers, which are brownish red or purple, are exceedingly fragrant; the French call it the black-wooded magnolia on account of the dark color of its wood. This species grows in the open air in Georgia and other southern states, where it is highly prized for its fragrance, and is generally known as the banana shrub; it there forms a dense bush 8 or 10 ft. high. — The magnolias are readily raised from seeds, which germinate better if sown as soon as ripe; if they are to be kept till spring, they must be preserved in slightly damp sand, for if allowed to become perfectly dry they will not germinate. The difficulty of removing wild trees has already been alluded to; they form but few fibrous roots, and hence are usually looked upon by nurserymen as plants very difficult to handle; but if nursery-grown plants are frequently transplanted during their growth, fibrous roots are formed, and they can be removed with safety; in some nurseries the trees are grown in pots, and these, though necessarily small, are quite safe for the planter to purchase, as they may be turned into the open ground without disturbing their roots. Magnolias are also multiplied by layers, but the tall-growing ones thus treated never produce handsome-shaped trees, and those from seed are preferable. The rarer kinds, especially the Chinese, are grafted upon some species which grows readily from seed, the cucumber tree (M. acuminata) being usually selected as the stock upon which to graft. Inarching is also sometimes resorted to to multiply these plants. (See Grafting.)