Friday, June 12, 2015

My favorite plant this week: Magnolia grandiflora

My favorite plant this week is a Magnolia grandiflora we inherited with the house.  It sits in the middle of what used to be our front lawn.  When we removed the lawn and excavated the area around the tree last year one of the things that worried me most was whether we might harm the tree as its root system was extensive and ran close to the surface of the soil.  To the degree possible, we limited our cuts to the tree's roots to the area outside its drip line but the impact was still significant, or at least it seemed so to me.  Rainfall has been low for 4 years now and we've reduced irrigation in response to calls for water conservation, further stressing the tree.  In addition, in response to a neighbor's complaint about obstruction of her view by our trees, I thinned the tree's canopy this year.  However, despite all these stressors, the tree seems to be doing fine.

Wood mulch rather than scraggly lawn now covers the area below the Magnolia tree

My best guess is that our tree is Magnolia grandiflora 'Majestic Beauty', which is known for its pyramidal shape and its exceptionally large flowers.  We estimate that the tree is 35-40 feet tall, which is in line with the projection for a mature tree of this cultivar.

We're generally unable to view the flowers except from a distance as most grow well above our heads.  Dropped petals and humming bees are the usual clues to flowers above but, even craning my neck, I get no more than a partial glimpse of the flowers.

The usual view of flowers on our Magnolia tree

You get a glimpse of the bees at work in this photo - normally we just hear them

Until recently, this was the best picture of a Magnolia flower I'd managed to capture

So, this week, I was delighted to see that a bud had formed on a relatively low-growing branch.  I was able to watch the bud swell and open.  Better yet, I got a chance to stick my nose up to the open bloom and smell its perfume.

These photos show the bud opening over a 3-day period - the unfurled flower measured over a foot (30 cm) in diameter

The blooms are a bright white, which fade to a buff color before the petals drop to the ground.

The evergreen tree has large, stiff leaves with glossy green tops and brown undersides.  The leaves drop in profusion this time of year but they're easily cleaned up.  Birds and squirrels will eat the red seeds contained in the tree's cones.  But this year I found a secondary use for the cones when the critters were done with them.

A portion of the cones I started collecting in late January

I distributed the cones in the barest sections of my garden beds.  It may look weird but it's not intended to serve a decorative purpose.  This is my raccoon defense system.

Perhaps, I'm deluding myself but I swear this has worked.  I haven't had any major damage to my garden beds since I installed these cones in early spring.  And it's not as if the raccoons have stopped visiting.  As mentioned in a post earlier this week, I collected rain in garden trugs.  As the trugs were uncovered and I didn't want mosquitoes to proliferate, I used the water as soon as possible in the garden.  Afterwards, in the dirt film at the bottom of each emptied trug, I found the distinctive claw prints of my furry visitors.

You have to admit my Magnolia has a multitude of uses!  It provides shade, which is especially valuable during our hot summers; it feeds the birds and the bees; and it provides tools to thwart my garden's #1 pest - all while adding beauty to my garden.  What more can you ask of a plant?

This post is a contribution to the favorite plants meme hosted by Loree of danger garden.  You can find Loree's monthly favorite plants wrap-up on her blog on the last Friday of each month.

All material © 2012-2015 by Kris Peterson for Late to the Garden Party


  1. I love, love, love, this tree! The cone idea is inspired. I think they look a bit like some rare collector succulent.

  2. Isn't it nice when you inherit a tree that is very desirable rather than something you despise and want to remove asap? It's a stunning tree and to see it in bloom like that is such a delight!

  3. The good thing about high in the sky Magnolia blossoms is that the fragrance wafts down to your level.

    I've used pine cones as a deterrent to the cat digging, never thought about Magnolia cones. The trug water collection is a great idea, too.

  4. Magnolia grandiflora is the most majestic flowering evergreen tree I know of! They are so tough, yet so beautiful. Sadly, like that other southern stalwart, crepe myrtles, they don't grow very well here as the summers just aren't warm enough.
    I'm glad your tree didn't have to have it's entire canopy lopped at the hands of your neighbour.

  5. Magnificent trees; I still miss them from LA days... but I had no idea just how useful spent magnolia cones might be... ;-)

  6. I have never met a magnolia that I don't adore, yours included. I'm so glad it's a star in your garden.

  7. I wonder if Douglas fir cones would also act as a raccoon deterrent...I can send you bucketloads, enough to mulch your entire garden. I remember asking about the cones when I visited. Thanks for sharing your photos of the flower, and your delight at finding one low enough to watch and stick your nose into.

  8. The raccoons have met their match with you Kris and no mistake. Watch out for revenge tactics though. Our squirrels have started eating the roses. They never did it before I put fresh batteries in the twirler.

  9. I greatly admire Magnolia grandiflora for all the reasons you mention. The flowers of your tree are larger than our Southern magnolia, which are grand enough, so I can imagine how magnificent yours must be. Best wishes on your continuing war with the raccoons!

  10. What a clever idea to keep the raccoons from digging. I like the look as well - your placement is just symmetrical enough to be pleasing to the eye. I grew up playing around a neighbor's towering magnolia tree and recall the sweet perfume clearly. It is a strong sense memory that brings back memories of summer afternoons. So happy your changing situation hasn't harmed your beautiful tree!


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