Monday, April 14, 2014

Stellar Magnolia

Magnolia stellata 'Royal Star'
Despite the lack of much rain, there is a bright spot in my garden.  I've mentioned it before, but a nine year old Magnolia stellata is once again the center of attention in my garden...or at least it was yesterday.  A "center stage" performance, even though it is positioned in the wings of the garden, east of my peony bed.

My M. stellata is a cultivar named 'Royal Star', according to the label.  Those wonderful waxy white blossoms began opening a week ago and seem to be peaking today.  I believe this year's performance is the best of its short lifetime in my garden, and perhaps because it is reaching towards the heights promised at maturity.  My 'Royal Star' is about 5 feet high and 3 feet in diameter, a bit below its advertised 10'X8' maturity, but still a respectable size to make an impact.  She's reportedly hardy to Zone 3B, and I've never worried about her health, only about whether a late spring freeze would shorten the life of these blossoms.

M stellata's best input to my garden is undoubtedly sensory.  During these showy days, a unique fragrance wafts across the garden.  Although I'm not a "fragrance expert", I'd describe this one as dense or heavy, warm, moist and musky, a suiting aroma for a genus that first made sugar from sunlight in company with the dinosaurs.  If I were to make a dinosaur park, a playground reminiscent of Crichton's The Lost World, I'd surely fill it with magnolias from edge to edge.  Those thick heavy petals also echo the mists of time and the presence of swamps and humid breezes and dark jungles. Creamy white at first glance, if one looks closely at a flower, one also sees a slight pink blush when the flower first opens, as if it were embarrassed to be caught in such an immodest display.  Born new into a world when asexual means of plant reproduction were old and unfashionable, and pollen and stigmas and flower sex were new and "hot", magnolias exude sex, from the heavy musk of their fragrance to their brazen display of desire.  "Come up and fertilize me sometime," says this early Mae West.

So, if there's a plus side to not yet having spring rains, its that M. stellata is blooming in peace, petals unstained, perfect and beckoning in the sunlight.  It is a sad thing to think that I'd trade all this beauty for a measly inch of warm spring rain.

Update:  I wrote this before things turned bad yesterday.  This morning my 'Royal Star' is almost stripped clean by last night's wind.  Plus it's below freezing out there.  A fleeting moment of beauty followed by bare nothing.  I'll bet the dinosaurs went out the same way.


  1. We have two of these beauties here at our monastery in Atchison...sadly the winds, rain, hail, and snow have done the same damage to ours. Hopefully this is the last snow of the year!

  2. Your Magnolia is or should I say 'was' magnificent. I think Royal Star is definitely the best stellata. It is such a shame that these early magnolias so often get damaged by bad weather. Do you have any other magnolias?

    1. I have 3 others; 'Ann', 'Jane', and my beloved 'Yellow Bird' that I'm breathlessy waiting for to bloom.

  3. Your Royal Star is/was gorgeous! I love that variety, as well as another variety named "Waterlily", with a pale pink wash after it opens from a pink bud. I've never grown either personally, but we used to sell both in Mobile, when I worked with the plant sale committee at the Botanical Gardens. All the stellatas usually flew out the door on opening night, especially if there were any blooms on the plants.


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