Saturday, March 31, 2012

Magnificent Magnolias

Magnolia 'Jane'
I still linger in wonder, sometimes, that I have not only one but three magnolias growing in my Kansas garden.  I associate magnolias so strongly with the true Southern United States, that I simply have trouble accepting these large leathery petals will survive on the Kansas prairie.  If the cold doesn't kill them in the long run, surely the dryness and wind will.  I wasn't much of a gardener at the time, but I don't recall them growing in the zone 5B area of my Indiana childhood, so I never expected them here.  I was only experimenting when I first attempted Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star' here, pessimistically expecting only a wasted effort, but it is difficult to argue with success.

'Jane', on the prairie
They're all blooming now, all three of my magnolias, causing me to daydream of dinosaurs and foot-wide dragonflys, coal swamps and pterodactyls.  Something about those large leathery tepals and the deep musky scent evokes a memory from deep in my brainstem, instincts and dreams from times past.  This is one of the early flowers, the Dawn Flowers, as Earth's flora leaped into the sexual reproduction revolution and left the cycads and conifers behind.  Magnolias, evolving before the appearance of bees, were forced to toughen up their carpels into these rigid toothy mounds so the heavy, ungraceful beetles of the time could facilitate pollen transfer.  The glorious center organ of my young 'Jane', pictured above right and as a whole bush to the left, just seems to scream of warmth and dampness and sex, does it not?

Magnolia 'Yellow Bird'

Every year, I hold my breath until my Magnolias bloom, particularly until my baby 'Yellow Bird' (Magnolia acuminata 'Yellow Bird') shows signs of life, always hoping against hope that this year will not be the one I'm taught a painful lesson about the dangers of zonal denial.  Magnolias always burst into bloom naked, with no warning by accompanying leaves that life has begun again.  This year again, 'Yellow Bird' became, for a short time, the focus of my garden, tiny though it is, even prompting Mrs. ProfessorRoush to ask me what the beautiful yellow shrub was in the back garden.  I always know I've got a hit on my hands when it registers on the consciousness of my horticulturally unaware spouse.  I personally thought the yellow hue was a little less bright this year than last, perhaps "washed out" by the extremely wet weather a few days before these buds opened, or perhaps less developed when the rapid onset of heat pushed these flowers into an early Spring.  I was shocked to reread last year's post on the first bloom of 'Yellow Bird', dated April 18th, 2011, knowing all the while the tree has almost finished blooming this year at this end of March.   Again, evidence of an extremely early Spring.

'Yellow Bird' at 2 years

Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star'
And, as always, Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star' was the anchor of the Spring season, opening a couple of weeks back with the first scented bloom of Spring.  It always preempts the stage before the Witch Hazel here, before the tulips, almost before the daffodils.  This year it bloomed only briefly but gloriously, showing the ground with fresh clean white tepals during the strong winds and rains a week past.  Right now, unusually, some tardy buds are blooming again, making sure that this shrub makes its statement in my garden for another year.  A last brief shout before the rapidly developing summer heat makes this Magnolia dream again of dinosaurs past.


  1. It seems the whites have been magnificent this year.

  2. Beautiful magnolias! I've read about the yellow one, but your photos are the first I've seen of any growing, especially here in Kansas. It looks wonderful.

  3. They are indeed Greggo!

    Gaia; well, it's at least growing at present. Three feet tall and in it's 3rd summer here.


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