Magnolia tree a longtime favorite

  • Friday, June 21, 2013

Psychologists have long delved into people’s memories trying to identify early events that influenced later behavior or choices.
I clearly remember attending a birthday party when I was four years old. Several games were played and when I won one, the prize was a pocket-sized book about trees. All of the pictures were in full color and I spent hours turning the pages, amazed to see flowering trees. My favorite was one with big white flowers that I now realize was a Southern Magnolia.
Although there are Magnolias in Virginia where I grew up, I never encountered one in bloom until I moved to Georgia in my early 20s. There the tree that had captured my childish imagination captivated my adult heart. With its large, creamy white and fragrant lemon-citronella scented flowers, it is little wonder that the Magnolia has become such a beloved iconic symbol of the American South.
The Southern Magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, also called Evergreen Magnolia or Bull Bay, has a straight trunk that can grow to more than 90 feet and a conical crown. Its native range is from North Carolina to Florida and west to Texas, although it has proven hardy as far north as Philadelphia.
Fast growing throughout most of the Southeast, it is valued as an ornamental but also as a source of hard heavy wood for furniture, cabinetry, veneer, paneling, doors, pallets and boxes. The shiny evergreen leaves with their rust-colored undersides are popular for floral arrangements, wreaths and garlands. A Magnolia’s red seeds are eaten by numerous bird and mammal species.
Magnolias can be grown in sun or shade, adapt well to a variety of soils and have few problems with insect pests. They are excellent lawn trees, and their habit of shedding old leaves each spring and seed pods in late summer provides litter that serves as automatic mulch.
One of the first things I did when I came to Cedarleaf in 1982 was plant a Southern Magnolia near the front of the house. It is now about 20 feet tall and in full blooming glory. I look at it, inhale its perfume and think about the little girl with a book about trees.
I cannot help but wonder if that book was the beginning of what would become my life as a tree farmer.
Joanna Angle is a Master Tree Farmer and 2012 South Carolina Tree Farmer of the Year.

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