Flora Fridays – March 22, 2024

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Early Blooming Magnolias

Spring has sprung in Montgomery County! We are seeing many more shrubs and plants in bloom with the warmer weather, rains, and longer daylight hours. In this article, we cover two ornamental magnolias blooming in our area during March. Both are great candidates for accent trees in the home landscape. The genus Magnolia honors French botanist Pierre Magnol (1638-1715), a major contributor to modern plant taxonomy.

Star magnolia – Magnolia stellata 

The star magnolia is one of the earliest blooming woody ornamentals in our region. The plant is often grown as a multi stemmed shrub. It can reach 20 or more feet in height under optimal conditions, and its diameter can spread just as wide as the plant is tall. The fragrant flowers are white with strap-like (ligulate) petals arranged in a rosette. These starbursts bloom on bare limbs, prior to leaf emergence, looking much like white pom-poms or mop heads. This magnolia best succeeds in well drained organic soils, but can adapt to occasionally moist clay soils. Star magnolias best bloom when planted outside of southern exposed areas, which warm fastest in the spring and may induce early flowers that can be damaged by frost.

Magnolia stellata form

Magnolia stellata flower

Saucer magnolia – Magnolia x soulangeana

This magnolia is a large deciduous tree or shrub. The hybrid was created by crossing Magnolia denudata and Magnolia liliiflora. It is easily recognized in the early spring by its large cup shaped flowers of white, pink, and purple. These flowers emerge before the leaves, and when they bud out too early risk frost damage. When selecting a M. x soulangeana cultivar, consider choosing ‘Ann Betty’ or ‘Ballerina’. These two cultivars flower later than other cultivars, which can reduce the risk of flower buds being nipped by frost. 

Magnolia x soulangeana form

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