1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Magnolia

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MAGNOLIA, the typical genus of the botanical order Magnoliaceae, named after Pierre Magnol (1638-1715), professor of medicine and botany at Montpellier. It contains about twenty species, distributed in Japan, China and the Himalayas, as well as in North America.

Magnolias are trees or shrubs with deciduous or rarely evergreen foliage. They bear conspicuous and often large, fragrant, white, rose or purple flowers. The sepals are three in number, the petals six to twelve, in two to four series of three in each, the stamens and carpels being numerous. The fruit consists of a number of follicles which are borne on a more or less conical receptacle, and dehisce along the outer edge to allow the scarlet or brown seeds to escape; the seeds however remain suspended by a long slender thread (the funicle). Of the old-world species, the earliest in cultivation appears to have been M. Yulan (or M. conspicua) of China, of which the buds were preserved, as well as used medicinally and to season rice; together with the greenhouse species, M. fuscata, it was transported to Europe in 1789, and thence to North America, and is now cultivated in the Middle States. There are many fine forms of M. conspicua, the best being Soulangeana, white tinted with purple, Lenné and stricta. Of the Japanese magnolias, M. Kobus and the purple-flowered M. obovata were met with by Kaempfer in 1690, and were introduced into England in 1709 and 1804 respectively. M. pumila, the dwarf magnolia, from the mountains of Amboyna, is nearly evergreen, and bears deliciously scented flowers; it was introduced in 1786. The Indian species are three in number, M. globosa, allied to M. conspicua of Japan, M. sphenocarpa, and, the most magnificent of all magnolias, M. Campbellii, which forms a conspicuous feature in the scenery and vegetation of Darjeeling. It was discovered by Dr Griffith in Bhutan, and is a large forest tree, abounding on the outer ranges of Sikkim, 80 to 150 ft. high, and from 6 to 12 ft. in girth. The flowers are 6 to 10 in. across, appearing before the leaves, and vary from white to a deep rose colour.

The first of the American species brought to Europe (in 1688 by John Banister) was M. glauca, a beautiful evergreen species about 15 ft. high with obtuse leathery leaves, blue-green above, silvery underneath, and globular flowers varying from creamy white to pale yellow with age. It is found in low situations near the sea from Massachusetts to Louisiana more especially in New Jersey and the Carolinas. M. acuminata, the so-called “cucumber tree,” from the resemblance of the young fruits to small cucumbers, ranges from Pennsylvania to Carolina. The wood is yellow, and used for bowls; the flowers, 3 to 4 in. across, are glaucous green tinted with yellow. It was introduced into England from Virginia about 1736. M. tripetala (or M. umbrella), is known as the “umbrella tree” from the arrangement of the leaves at the ends of the branches resembling somewhat that of the ribs of an umbrella. The flowers, 5 to 8 in. across, are white and have a strong but not disagreeable scent. It was brought to England in 1752. M. Fraseri (or M. auriculata), discovered by John Bartram in 1773, is a native of the western parts of the Carolinas and Georgia, extending southward to western Florida and southern Alabama. It grows 30 to 50 ft. high, has leaves a foot or more long, heart-shaped and bluntly auricled at the base, and fragrant pale yellowish-white flowers, 3 to 4 in. across. The most beautiful species of North America is M. grandiflora, the “laurel magnolia,” a native of the south-eastern States, and introduced into England in 1734. It grows a straight trunk, 2 ft. in diameter and upwards of 70 ft. high, bearing a profusion of large, powerfully lemon-scented creamy-white flowers. It is an evergreen tree, easily recognized by its glossy green oval oblong leaves with a rusty-brown under surface. In England it is customary to train it against a wall in the colder parts, but it does well as a bush tree; and the original species is surpassed by the Exmouth varieties, which originated as seedlings at Exeter from the tree first raised in England by Sir John Colliton, and which flower much more freely than the parent plant. Other fine magnolias now to be met with in gardens are M. cordata, a North American deciduous tree 40 to 50 ft. high, with heart-shaped leaves, woolly beneath, and yellow flowers lined with purple; M. hypoleuca, a fine Japanese tree 60 ft. high or more, with leaves a foot or more long, 6 to 7 in. broad, the under surface covered with hairs; M. macrophylla, a handsome deciduous North American tree, with smooth whitish bark, and very large beautiful green leaves, 1 to 3 ft. long, 8 to 10 in. broad, oblong-obovate and heart-shaped at the base; the open sweet-scented bell-shaped flowers 8 to 10 in. across, are white with a purple blotch at the base of the petals; M. stellata or Halleana, a charming deciduous Japanese shrub remarkable for producing its pure white starry flowers as early as February and March on leafless stems; and M. Watsoni, another fine deciduous Japanese bush or small tree with very fragrant pure white flowers 5 to 6 in. across.


Britannica Magnolia - grandiflora.jpg

Magnolia grandiflora, shoot with flower; rather less than ½ nat. size.

  1. Flower after removal of the sepals and petals, showing the indefinite stamens, s, and carpels, c; ⅔ nat. size.
  2. Fruit — the ripe carpels are splitting, exposing the seeds, some of which are suspended by the long funicle; ¼ nat. size.
  3. Floral diagram, b, bract.


The tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera, a native of North America, frequently cultivated in England, is also a member of the same family. It reaches a height of over 100 ft. in a native condition, and as much as 60 to 80 ft. in England. It resembles the plane tree somewhat in appearance, but is readily recognized by lobed leaves having the apical lobe truncated, and by its soft green and yellow tulip-like flowers — which however are rarely borne on trees under twenty years of age.

For a description of the principal species of magnolia under cultivation see J. Weathers, Practical Guide to Garden Plants, pp. 174 seq., and for a detailed account of the American species see C. S Sargent, Silva of North America, vol. i.