The blooms have a sweet floral fragrance that's lightly fruity, with some comparing the scent to that of champagne, and its fresh relaxing aroma makes it popular in aromatherapy circles. It has been used as a symbol of purity, innocence and virginity for centuries, and is associated with springtime, new beginnings, and rebirth. In Japan, it is seen as a symbol of good luck and prosperity, with the flowers often used in wedding ceremonies and as decorations for special occasions.
When I used to live in Bermuda, I had one of these trees, and it was a shady place to sit under with a book. Unfortunately, a hurricane uprooted it and to our dismay it lay inelegantly keeled over for several days, somehow indecently showing its roots, while we agonised over what to do with it. A gardening team were called on to grappled it upright, and several steel stays anchored it down while nature took over the roots, and it lived on.
They evolved on Earth as far back as 95 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. Although dinosaurs roamed, bees still did not exist, so magnolias evolved to be pollinated by other insects - beetles. You might develop a new respect for the pollinating responsibility of beetles when you look at the many families of insects that visit magnolia flowers! Bees will visit, but normally too late in the year for successful pollination. One unusual fact about Magnolias – the flowers are protogynous, which means that the flowers first open with the female parts of the flower receptive, then close, and reopen with the male parts (stamens) ready to shed pollen, which increases the likelihood of cross-pollination rather than self-pollination, widening the gene pool.
Magnolia is an ancient genus, named after French botanist Pierre Magnol - he was one of the greatest botanists of the 17th century, whose career only took off when he was well over fifty. He belonged to the persecuted Protestant minority, and in his life was several times denied a position because of religious discrimination. Magnolia was named by the Swedish botanist Carl Linneaus in 1737 in honour of him.
These trees will grow in sunny areas and warm climates, including Portugal. However, excess exposure to the sun when temperatures are hot can damage them and, in most cases, the sun will cause the leaves to wilt and eventually fall off the tree, so shade is necessary. It grows to a height of around ten meters, and its crown is very wide, and although its growth rate is slow - especially when the climate is not the most suitable - it is a plant that produces flowers from a very young age, even in a pot.
How messy are Southern Magnolias?
These are the ones that grow here, and unfortunately, is considered a messy tree by most standards – they drop their old leaves each spring, together with their seed pods during late summer. They prefer full sun, but here they may benefit from a location shaded from the hot afternoon sun, but if possible, avoid exposed, windy locations because strong winds can damage large flowers and the typically brittle branches.
Are magnolia roots invasive? You may get magnolia tree root damage when the trees grow too close to your house, as with any tree. Most tree roots seek a water source, and magnolias are no exception. They need watering during the hot season, but not so much that water puddles in the soil. Although it is not necessary, pruning your magnolia tree can be beneficial, as it will help shape young trees and can also remove foliage and any branches that are diseased, thus preventing infections from spreading further.
Trees add a lot to your property. They can create shade, add colour and definition, and increase your home's value. With potential heights of up to 24m and spreads of 12m, the Southern Magnolia tree can make a big statement in your landscape design. Of course, proper planting and care is essential if you want your magnolia to not only grow, but also thrive for many years to come.
Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man.