Tulip trees and magnolias

Two days ago, in my posting “Some winter flowers”, I looked at the saucer magnolia tree, Magnolia x soulangeana (pictured in #2 in that posting), currently in bloom all around me on the SF peninsula. The large cup-like blossoms (purple, ranging from purplish-pink to reddish-purple) appear before the tree’s leaves do, making the floral display even more impressive.

When I posted about these trees, Kim Darnell objected, saying that they aren’t magnolia trees, but tulip trees.

It’s important here that Kim lived for two decades in Atlanta, where (as generally in the southeastern US) unmodified magnolia refers to Magnolia grandiflora, also known as southern magnolia, a large evergreen tree with glossy green leaves and stunning fragrant white flowers. Meanwhile, somewhere she picked up the name tulip tree for saucer magnolias —  a natural label, given that saucer magnolia blossoms look like pretty tulip flowers. But not  a common name that I’d seen reported before; instead, the common name tulip tree generally refers to magnificent trees in the genus Liriodendron; a giant specimen of L. tulipifera towered over a yard halfway between the house I lived in as a child and the grade school I went to, so I’m familiar with its leaves, flowers, and fruits, all of which I played with as a kid.

Finally, also in bloom now in my neighborhood, Magnolia stellata, or star magnolia, which like saucer magnolia, blooms before it leafs out.

The plant family. Magnolia and Liriodendron are both genera in the magnolia family, a family not previously documented on this blog. From Wikipedia:

The Magnoliaceae are a flowering plant family, the magnolia family [#78 in the plant family inventory on this blog], in the order Magnoliales. It consists of two subfamilies: Magnolioideae, of which Magnolia is the most well-known genus, and Liriodendroidae, a monogeneric subfamily, of which Liriodendron (tulip trees) is the only genus. … The family has about 219 species in seven genera.

Liriodendron. From Wikipedia:

(#1) L. tulipifera flower and leaves

(#2) L. tulipifera fruit

Liriodendron is a genus of two species of characteristically large deciduous trees in the magnolia family (Magnoliaceae).

These trees are widely known by the common name tulip tree or tuliptree for their large flowers superficially resembling tulips. The Scientific Greek Liriodendron actually means “lily tree”. The tulip tree is sometimes referred to as tulip poplar or yellow poplar, and the wood simply as “poplar”, although Liriodendron is not closely related to the true poplars, but is more closely related to magnolia trees. The tree is also called canoewood, saddle-leaf tree, and white wood.

Two species of Liriodendron are known to exist. Liriodendron tulipifera is native to eastern North America, while Liriodendron chinense is native to China and Vietnam. Both species often grow to great size, sometimes exceeding 50 m (164 ft) in height. The American species is commonly used horticulturally, and hybrids have been produced between these two [geographically isolated] species.

Magnolia grandiflora. From Wikipedia:

(#3) M. grandiflora in bloom

Magnolia grandiflora, commonly known as the southern magnolia or bull bay, is a tree of the family Magnoliaceae native to the southeastern United States, from coastal North Carolina to central Florida, and west to East Texas. Reaching 27.5 m (90 ft) in height, it is a large, striking evergreen tree, with large dark green leaves up to 20 cm (7 3⁄4 in) long and 12 cm (4 3⁄4 in) wide, and large, white, fragrant flowers up to 30 cm (12 in) in diameter.

Although endemic to the lowland subtropical forests on the Gulf and south Atlantic coastal plain, magnolia grandiflora is widely cultivated in warmer areas around the world. The timber is hard and heavy, and has been used commercially to make furniture, pallets, and veneer.

Magnolia stellata. From Wikipedia:

(#4) M. stellata in bloom

Magnolia stellata, sometimes called the star magnolia, is a slow-growing shrub or small tree native to Japan. It bears large, showy white or pink flowers in early spring, before its leaves open. This species is closely related to the Kobushi magnolia (Magnolia kobus), and is treated by many botanists as a variety or even a cultivar of that.


One Response to “Tulip trees and magnolias”

  1. [BLOG] Some Sunday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

    […] Zwicky looks at, among other things, tulip trees and […]

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