The sweet smell of magnolias on the Greenway
For those who associate magnolias with sitting on a porch in the Deep South sipping sweet tea, “Surprise!” The pleasures of this wonderful flowering tree can be enjoyed right here on the Greenway. Many of us love them simply for their heavenly fragrance, but gardeners and botanists find them intriguing too. Gardeners are captivated by their large ornamental flowers; botanists by the fact that their flower forms were some of the first to arise in the evolution of flowering plants.
Magnolias native to the Asian continent tend to flower in the early to mid-spring and will produce flowers before leaves. You may have noticed a precocious bloom a few weeks ago on the Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata) on the Greenway between Oliver/Seaport Boulevard and High Streets. Native to Japan, The Star Magnolia produces a myriad of 3-4” white flowers in the early spring.
Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata) on the Greenway between Oliver/Seaport Boulevard and High Streets.
American magnolias tend to flower in the late spring to mid-summer, after the tree has produced leaves. Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) is the only magnolia native to Massachusetts. It produces white, lemon-scented flowers in the early summer. The Sweetbay Magnolia is a semi-evergreen and will hold onto most of its green leaves through the winter. Sweetbay Magnolias can be found in the Wharf District Parks (between State St. and High Street), alongside many other native plants.
This week, we’ll be treated to the visual delight of the pure yellow flowers of Elizabeth Magnolias in the North End Parks (between New Sudbury and North Streets). Magnolia breeders struggled for years to produce a magnolia that flowered purely yellow until the Brooklyn Botanic Garden succeeded with the Elizabeth Magnolia (Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’), a hybrid of the Yulan Magnolia and the US Native Cucumbertree (Magnolia acuminata).
And in June, look for another American Native, Ashe’s Magnolia (Magnolia Ashei) in the Fort Point Channel Parks (between Pearl and Congress Streets) with its large white flowers, often purple at the base, nicely complemented by large soft leaves.
These are just a few of the interesting tidbits about magnolias. The best way to learn about them, of course, is to head out to the parks and observe them yourself! Look for the differences in bloom time, petal color, and fragrance.