Photo by Nina Hufman | Magnolias tree located on Cal Poly Humboldt campus taken on April 7.
Photo by Nina Hufman | Magnolias tree located on Cal Poly Humboldt campus taken on April 7.

Magnificent Magnolias

Cal Poly Humboldt’s fabulous spring flora.

by Nina Hufman

Chinese magnolia trees all over campus have been shedding their flowers, covering walkways in a blanket of magenta and white petals. Their cup-shaped petals range in color from pink to lavender-purple, with white interiors.

Like other species of magnolia, the Chinese magnolia (Magnolia soulangeana) has large, fragrant blooms that grow singularly at the ends of each branch. Because it generally blooms in early spring, the flowers are vulnerable to late freezes.

According to the Missouri Botanical Gardens, the tree blooms from late March to mid-April before the foliage comes in. It can then bloom sporadically throughout the rest of the growing season. The leaves turn from green to yellow in the fall before the tree sheds them for the winter.

Magnolias are considered small trees. According to the North Carolina Extension Gardener, the trees can grow to be 33 feet tall but usually are between 20 and 25 feet tall. They have a sporadic, multi-trunk, shrubby growth pattern. Their bark is dark or light gray in color and has a smooth texture.

The Chinese magnolia has a simple leaf type, with alternating veins. The leaves are oblong shaped and have a margin that extends up the entire length of the leaf. Hairlike structures, or indumentum, are present on the leaves. These hairs help the plant to absorb water and deter predators.

This tree is a hybrid cross between two other magnolia species, M. denudata and M. liliflora. According to Lake Forest College, the hybrid was created by Etienne Soulange-Bodin, an officer in Napoleon’s army who later became a horticulturist. The tree was created in France in 1814.

Though the trees may bloom the rest of the spring and summer, they are currently giving their most beautiful display. Go out and see the magnificent Chinese magnolia today.

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