When you think of a magnolia tree, the image is of a large, evergreen tree with shiny dark green leaves and huge white flowers. There might be an old couple sitting in chairs and drinking mint juleps or something on the lawn next to it. It is a real icon of the American South. Well, that familiar magnolia is Magnolia grandiflora, the Southern Magnolia or Bull Bay. It is a plant native to the southeastern U.S., but it has been planted in warmer regions all over the world.
The photograph above shows the flowers of another native magnolia that is not so familiar. This is the Cucumber Tree (Magnolia acuminata), and I found it blooming in Jack and Peggy’s (our neighbors) woods. As you can see, the flowers emerge before the leaves in this species, and they are a light yellow in color. It can be recognized from that fact that it is our only yellow-flowered species of Magnolia that also has grooved bark. The common name comes from the fruit, which is green and resembles a cucumber.
The photograph above shows a young flower and an older one. The flowers only last two or three days.These trees get quite large, and the lumber from them is soft and easily worked. In the trade it is interchangeable with that from the Tuliptree, Liriodendron tulipifera, (which is also called Yellow Poplar).
The genus Magnolia was named after Pierre Magnol, a French botanist (1638-1715). There are more than 200 species in the genus, and they are distributed in two main areas: one in China and Southeast Asia and the other from the Southeastern U.S. down through the Caribbean and Central America into South America. Eight species are native to the U.S. Cucumber Tree’s range includes southern Canada, and it is the only Magnolia species native to Canada. A lot of research has gone into this genus to find out how the various species are related to one another, and most authorities believe the genus should be split into several groups.