Monday, April 18, 2011

Yellow Bird Magnolia

My "most awaited newcomer" has been teasing me for over a week now by performing a slow strip-tease, sepal by sepal, to expose her inner beauty.  And here it is, my much anticipated Magnolia acuminata 'Yellow Bird'.  Isn't she a beaut?  

Last year I attended a seminar at a locally-owned nursery, Blueville Nursery, which offered a 20% discount that night for EMG purchases and this small 3-foot specimen grabbed my eye.  Although a bit pricey, she screamed "but I'm 20% off!" at me and I took her home.  I've been stretching into the Magnolias over the past few years and I'd been looking for a yellow magnolia, perhaps Magnolia acuminata X M. denudata 'Butterflies', to become the third magnolia experiment in my garden.  I'd seen 'Butterflies' at another local nursery as a full-grown specimen and it is impressive when it wasn't frost damaged, but the yellow of 'Butterflies' is much paler than the single bloom that was present on 'Yellow Bird' when I bought it, so 'Yellow Bird' became my girl.

Now that she is blooming, I think 'Yellow Bird' is one of the most aptly-named plants I've ever seen.  Across the garden, even my small specimen looks like there are 8 or 10 canaries perched on the little tree, the 3 1/2 inch flowers exactly the right yellow to stand out from the surroundings.  'Yellow Bird' was bred in 1967 and is a 1981 Brooklyn Botanic Garden introduction that is hardy from zone 5-9.  She seems to have opened a week or two later than both my M. stellata and my 'Jane' magnolia, so I hope that she will give me a reliable bloom here in Zone 5b, unaccompanied by late frost damage in most years that we see on some magnolias here.  Certainly, she has survived her first year here, a dry winter, with "flying colors" (please pardon the pun, couldn't resist).  'Yellow Bird' has a substantial pedigree, descending from a cross between the American native Magnolia acuminata and the Chinese Magnolia lilliflora and then recrossed as an early Brooklynensis, Magnolia 'Evamaria' with M. I. subcordata.  In fact, some sources drop the Magnolia acuminata designation and simply list it as Magnolia x brooklynensis 'Yellow Bird'.  A mongrel she may be, but the intercontinental crosses have resulted in an exceptional and hardy beauty.  

I see that Monrovia has recommended 'Yellow Bird' paired with 'Blue Moon' Wisteria macrostachya.  As one of my wisterias is beginning blooming at another part of the garden, I can imagine how the blue-purple wisteria would climb up into 'Yellow Bird' and capture your soul.  I'm not about to chance this specimen to the choking vines of wisteria, though, so perhaps I'll have to justify another specimen in the garden somewhere.  Unlike the description on one website which stated that the flowers appear after the leaves and so can be lost amid them, , my 'Yellow Bird' has blooms only at this time, and the leaves are just beginning to open.  The same website also stated that it doesn't like dry conditions, that it likes acid soils, and that it might live only 8-10 years, so I hope that site is wrong on these latter counts as well.  Time will reveal the truth.

'Yellow Bird' is supposed to grow 35-40 feet fall and 25 feet wide at maturity, so I can't imagine what a specimen she is going to make in my garden when she reaches full growth.  She is labeled as a fast grower, so if I have some luck and practice good nutrition, and exercise, I might have a chance to live to see this tree fully grown someday, a little gem elevated into eye-popping maturity.


  1. She's a beauty! I wouldn't mind adding one of those to my backyard... quite stunning.

  2. Wow! She will certainly be a sight in a few years covered with all those canaries! I think you did good with that purchase, Professor. How do you plan to exercise the tree?


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