Curator’s Plant of the Month – May 2018

Magnolia biloba at Thorp Perrow


Magnolia flowers at Thorp Perrow
Magnolia is a large genus of about 210 flowering plant species named after French botanist Pierre Magnol.
Magnolia is an ancient genus. Having evolved before bees appeared, the flowers developed to encourage pollination by beetles. Therefore, unlike most flowers, magnolia blooms are not pollinated by bees or butterflies. Instead, the magnolia relies on beetles to do the job. Instead of nectar, magnolias produce large amounts of high-protein pollen, which the beetles use for food.

Magnolia Felix jury at Thorp Perrow

Magnolias are magnificent flowering plants featuring blossoms in white, pink, red, purple, or yellow. Magnolia trees are diverse in leaf shape and plant form, and they include both evergreen and deciduous sorts. Some, such as the star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) and the saucer magnolia (Magnolia × soulangeana), flower quite early in the spring, before the leaves open. Others flower in late spring or early summer, including the sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) and the Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora).Magnolias are among the most primitive of the flowering plants. The fruit of the evergreen magnolias looks like a woody cone and is a structure that has remained unchanged for millions of years. The bright red seeds that appear upon maturity of the conelike “burr” are a particular favorite of songbirds.

Magnolia biloba at Thorp Perrow

Photo (c) Rod Bennington

The bark, and flower buds, of Magnolia from Magnolia officinalis has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine, where it is known as hou po and is used as an anti-anxiety treatment. Magnolia bark also may have been shown to reduce allergic and asthmatic reactions.
In parts of Japan, the leaves of magnolia obovata are used for wrapping food and as cooking dishes. But perhaps most interestingly, an extract of the magnolia’s bark has been shown to kill most oral bacteria that cause bad breath and tooth decay.

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