A Gardening Journal

Today in the Garden of a Lifetime: Brilliant Orange Seeds of Southern Magnolia

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Southern magnolias are always performing.  Glossy evergreen foliage throughout the year.  A scattering of enormous white flowers from the May to November.  Rosy cone-like fruit September to December.  And starting in late October, the creepy-but-thrilling emergence of the orange seeds.

 

They appear as if squeezed out of—even extruded from—the ripening fissures of the fruit.  The cone at the center is just beginning to spit out its seeds, whereas the upper-left cone would seem to be caught blowing its raspberry at full force.

 

A closely-tiled scales of the ripening cone suggest a fleshy interior, like that of a pineapple.

 

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Instead, what looks like fuzzy pink scales are actually fuzzy pink follicles, each of which separates and, as below, pushes out a large tongue-like orange seed.

 

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Are the seeds on this more-advanced cone darker orange because the cone and seeds, both, are riper?  Or is there variation in coloring, cone-to-cone?  Stay tuned for further reports.

 

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The bizarre and even blushing action of the seed-spitting cones is, appropriately, a matter for intimate viewing only.  From any distance, the tree's singular foliage and habit predominate. I'm espaliering my pair of Magnolia grandiflora 'Bracken's Brown Beauty' up a pipe frame the height of the west face of my house.  The tree's branches are unusually flexible, making it easy to tie them to the frame.  They produce new shoots readily, even from stumps, so there's no need to hesitate when pruning away even large branches that don't help fill in the espalier readily enough.  

 

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'Bracken's Brown Beauty' is, by far, the cultivar to grow at the northern end of the range of southern magnolias.  Not only do the trees tolerate heavy snow load that would collapse other cultivars, they are also hardier, making steady progress even when growing free-standing in gardens as far north as Providence, Rhode Island.

 

Here's how to grow a similar cultivar of southern magnolia, 'Edith Bogue'. 'Bracken's Brown Beauty' is more tolerant of heavy snow, and is a bit hardier, too.  If you're gardening north of Philadelphia and you have room for only one southern magnolia, choose 'Bracken's Brown Beauty'.  

 

 
 
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