Countless times I walk through the arboretum and see unique plants that are either in bloom, have really cool bark, are displaying dazzling new growth, spectacular fall color, or have produced beautiful cones. Whenever I show these to visitors they all seem to marvel at the artistry of nature. In this connection, I have decided to create a weekly venue where each week I walk through the arboretum and capture photos of nature’s wonder that I would like to share with you.

This initial effort will focus on three magnolias that are not commonly found in most collections — especially here in the southeastern U.S.

The first picture is Magnolia sieboldii ‘Colossus’

Magnolia sieboldii 'Colossus'

Commonly referred to as Oyama magnolia, this tree from eastern Asia is a challenge to cultivate in most areas of the southeast. The principle limiting factor is heat. ‘Colossus’ is a selection developed by the late Dr. August Kehr, of Hendersonville, North Carolina. This selection is referred to as a hexaploid, meaning it has three times the normal 2n number of chromosomes in each cell. The result is flowers that are up to five inches (13 cm) across (as opposed to the one to two inches (5 cm) of the species) and usually double, with as many as 18 tepals. We recently received another close relative, Magnolia wilsonii that is reportedly even more difficult to grow here in our area. Though it will be many years before it ever blooms, we look forward to evaluating it.


The next picture is Magnolia insignis (formerly classified as Manglietia insignis) from China, Nepal and northeast India. Magnolia insignis

It is the most commonly seen of the three species featured here. It is also the only evergreen of the three. The main feature of this tree is its flowers which range in color from pale pink to a true red depending upon the individual. The flowers are somewhat fragrant. We initially considered this species to be too tender to ever succeed in our area but have discovered that it is much hardier than believed. It has survived temperatures as low as 12 F (-11 C). The only negative with this species is that I have yet to encounter what I consider to be a plant with great architectural beauty.


The remaining pictures feature several shots of Magnolia officinalis var. biloba.

magnolia officinalis var. biloba

This exotic magnolia is native to China and is critically endangered and almost non-existent in the wild due to overharvesting of its bark for medicinal purposes. This subspecies of Magnolia officinalis is characterized by large obovate leaves with a deep notch at the apex giving the leaves a bi-lobed shape characteristic.. This was its first year to flower for us. In the picture you will note the antique ivory colored 12 inch (30 cm) diameter flower which is sweetly scented. The tree was almost destroyed about ten year ago when a tree that was being cut down accidentally landed on it.

magnolia officinalis var. biloba 3magnolia officinalis var. biloba 2

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