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9. Saucer Magnolia

Magnolia x soulangiana: Saucer Magnolia

Cultural Significance

Magnolia x soulangiana is named for its creator, Etienne Soulange-Bodin, a Parisian soldier turned horticulturalist who made a worldwide reputation for cross-breeding plants, especially magnolias. A retired cavalry-man in Napoleon’s Army, Bodin spent as much time studying the flora of the lands Europe than he did engaging in warfare. After Napoleon’s defeat, Bodin devoted his time to horticulture. Understanding the relationship between similar plants, Bodin swept pollen from the Lily Magnolia onto the receptive surface of the Magnolia Yulan. His fifth attempt at the cross-breeding was successful, creating the species seen here. In 1826 and 1827, The Linnean Society of Paris published the existence of the new species. Magnolia x soulangiana was instantly successful as an ornamental and became part of landscapes throughout Europe and the United States within a decade. A combination of evolving attitudes toward science and nature and contributions by somewhat rogue men of science, furthered the understanding of genetics and the field of botany.

While some of the species represented in this collection have persisted for millions of years, Magnolia x soulangiana is a hybrid species created by the hand of man. Despite its less than traditional roots, Magnolia x soulangiana (Saucer Magnolia) has some of the most beautiful flowers among all ornamental species. By the 19th century, science was revolutionizing the way humans viewed the natural world. Philosophers and scientists began to speak about a logical, natural and moldable reality. While selective breeding (whether it was animals or plants) had existed for thousands of years, it began coming into its own as a science in the mid 19th century. While the theory of genetic inheritance is attributed to Gregor Mendel’s 1865 and 1866 work, many botanists were paving the way for the theory of genetic inheritance.

Native Ecosystems

Magnolia x soulangiana is a hybrid of Lily Magnolia (M. quinquepeta) and Yulan Magnolia (M. heptapeta), both natives of China and Asia. Magnolia x soulangiana represents 19th century’s beginning of manipulating genes to attain a desired outcome.

Beneficial Uses

Magnolia x soulangiana has not yielded any industrial or medicinal properties at the present. The wood of the Saucer Magnolia is not used for any particular use. It is considered non-invasive and fairly pest-free. The only negative attribute associated with Saucer Magnolia is the litter created by its shedding petals. These petals can be dangerous when on a slick, hard walkway.

Biological Characteristics

The Saucer Magnolia is a lovely species that is prized for its floral display and its crown and bark. These qualities make it a centerpiece for both summer and winter landscapes. The bark is a smooth shale-grey that slightly reflects in strong sunlight. The trunk is usually segmented into several trunks that create an attractive zigzag pattern. The geometric grey trunk and bark make this a prized winter species. Saucer Magnolia is a small tree, reaching a maximum height of 25 feet and a maximum spread of 15-20 feet. It is a deciduous angiosperm.

The leaves of the Saucer Magnolia generally play second fiddle to the showy flowers, but are attractive in their own right. Leaves are deep to light green and arranged simply on the branches. They are flat, broad and have a sharp apex. Leaves are 3-6 inches in length and have a smooth margin. Leaves are large enough to show the distinct pinnate venation.

The most visually stunning attribute of the Saucer Magnolia are its large, cup-like flowers. With large, circling petals, the flowers are a pastel masterpiece, running from magenta to white with pink highlights running up the petal. Saucer Magnolia flowers are designated as perfect; meaning they contain male and female organs within the flower itself. Flowers arise from green buds that remain at the ends of branches during the winter. Flowers begin to bud in the early spring. The fruit generated by the flowers is a curious cone-looking green structure which is actually an aggregate of follicles.