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  • Writer's pictureBethany Plonski

Marvelous Magnolias

One of my favorite early blooming trees is the one I grew up calling a tulip tree (not to be confused with the tulip poplar). I’ve since learned that this kind of tree belongs to the magnolia family, even though it is deciduous and looks quite different from the most common native magnolia where I live, the Southern magnolia (magnolia grandiflora).

Southern Magnolia
Southern magnolia

Tulip trees are known by that name due to the color and shape of their blossoms, but they are also called saucer magnolias, again after the flower’s distinctive shape.

Tulip tree/saucer magnolia

Saucer magnolias are actually a hybrid derived from the Yulan magnolia (magnolia denudata) and the lily magnolia (magnolia liliiflora), and there are several different varieties available, ranging in color from pastel pink to a striking deep magenta.

Tulip tree/saucer magnolia

Easily confused with the saucer magnolia, the star magnolia (magnolia stellata) has smaller blossoms with double the amount of petals as the saucer magnolia. Their petals are thinner and typically white, although some varieties have a touch of pink as well.

Star magnolia, Atlanta Botanical Garden

This weekend I saw two beautiful (and tall) white magnolia trees blooming on the side of a parking lot and stopped to take some photos. Identifying trees can be quite a challenge, so I try to use a combination of field guides, websites, and identification apps to determine what I'm looking at.

My mystery magnolia - star or saucer?

The Seek app tells me that this one is a star magnolia, although that wouldn't have been my first guess because it didn’t seem to have quite as many petals. The blossoms looked a little past prime though, so I assume that some had already dropped away.

I also noticed faint pink stripes on the outside of petals, so I believe this might be the Centennial variety, which also grows taller than many other star magnolia varieties.


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