Botanica Atlanta | Landscape Design, Construction & Maintenance


Atlanta Garden Design

The Saucer Magnolia

Posted by Author on April 30, 2014 at 6:45 PM


The Saucer Magnolia


Image: Ryan Hide


The first time I looked at the flower of a saucer magnolia, I found myself in a state of slight disbelief. I should note that this was not the first time I saw a saucer magnolia in bloom but just the first time that I actually looked at one. As I studied the flower, I found it, quite honestly, a bit too flawless. It was not easy to accept that such a perfect, perfected, flower was growing out there in nature.


In early spring, saucer magnolias are among the first flowering trees to display their blooms, and they do so quite emphatically. In most climates, before the tree's leaves have budded out, the saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana) bursts forth with multi-toned, fist-sized flowers. The outsides of the robust, silky petals are defined by their crimson- and rose-tinged veins and often exhibit brilliant white interiors. These colorful blooms stand in dramatic contrast against the tree's stark gray trunk and branches.


Images: Jayme Frye & Rex Bennett


Saucer magnolias grow as multi-stemmed, spreading small trees. While younger trees stand relatively upright, as the plant matures, its profile fills out to an oval, eventually becoming rounded. The rate of growth is moderately fast, but it slows down around the tree's second decade. Trees generally reach a height of twenty-five feet with a spread between twenty and thirty feet. The bark of a saucer magnolia is the relatively smooth, gray bark that is characteristic of most magnolias.


Images: L. Sloan, Neil Hunt, & The Lovely Room


Earlier, when I mentioned that I found it hard to believe the saucer magnolia bloom was natural, it was because of its immaculate form. Even up close, the "cup-and-saucer" flower seems almost, in fact, like a work of painted porcelain. To be fair, "natural" is not the best descriptor for the plant -- it is a hybrid created in seventeenth-century France. It is unlikely that, in the Southern landscape, saucer magnolia will ever have the mainstay status of the evergreen, large-flowering, and native southern magnolia (" target="_blank">Magnolia grandiflora), but it should be considered an excellent complement to any garden.


Generally, I am not one to fall for "perfect" blooms like those you might find in the floral department, but there is something about saucer magnolia that is different. The flowers are not long-lived, and yet year after year, I look forward to seeing them as one of my favorite signs of spring.


Image: Ryan Hide


Categories: Plant Profiles, Gardening

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