Tulip Trees

Monday, April 9th, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Last call for bare root fruit trees. This is the most economical way to plant an orchard, so choose your trees now.
    • Plant sweet peas for bouquets of delightful blooms.
    • Forsythia, with its bright yellow flowers, is one of the first shrubs to bloom in the spring. Plant one in a sunny spot where you can enjoy its cheery flowers.
    • Plant peas in well-drained soil for a spring crop. Protect from birds with bird netting or lightweight row cover.
    • Primroses are bright and showy and bloom beautifully throughout the spring.

Tulip Trees make a dramatic focal point

To most people the term “tulip tree” refers to the beautiful saucer magnolias that are now coming into bloom. There are others who know the “tulip tree” to be the Liriodendron, a huge tree native to the eastern states. But this article is about magnolias.

“Tulip trees,” so called because of the shape and bright colors of their flowers, originated as a chance seedling from a cross of two species of Magnolia made by M. Soulange-Bodin near Paris, about 1820. They are named after him as Magnolia soulangiana. Unlike many other trees, they will bloom when still very small, making a nice show at only 2-3 feet tall. Blooms open in early spring before the leaves emerge.

Also known as saucer magnolias, there are many varieties with flowers ranging in color from white, to pink, to deep reddish purple. Blooms are six to ten inches across appearing before the leaves begin growing in the spring. The effect is very spectacular. ‘Rustica Rubra’ is a vigorous grower with large, reddish-purple flowers. ‘Alexandrina’ has large tulip-shaped blooms that are purplish-pink on the outside and pure white on the inside.

Saucer magnolias make fine lawn ornaments. They grow as large shrubs, with many stems, rather than single-trunked trees, and like the extra water that a lawn receives in the summer. They can be planted in full sun, or in partial shade, and grow to 20 or 25 feet tall, and almost as wide.

The star magnolia, Magnolia stellata, is another deciduous magnolia which comes to us from Japan. It produces white flowers in early spring before the leaves. The blossoms are composed of several long, strap-shaped petals that give a star-like effect. They are 3 to 4 inches in diameter. The variety ‘Royal Star’ has pink buds that open to fragrant, blush-pink blooms on a plant that grows 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide.

Star magnolia is a dense shrub or small tree and makes a fine specimen plant. It has twisting, irregular branches with pretty gray bark. The long, narrow leaves are thick and dark green, turning an excellent bronze in the fall. It is the first magnolia to bloom in the spring and one of the most attractive.

‘Dr. Merrill’ is a particularly fine variety with large, star-like white flowers that are fragrant. It grows to 25 feet tall and wide and when in bloom, the tree is a blizzard of white.

Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ is a rare, yellow-flowered tree with tapered buds that open to large, primrose-yellow blooms. An upright, pyramidal grower to 30 feet tall and 15 feet wide, it makes a fine specimen tree.

Saucer magnolias are often planted along the edge or property line in combination with evergreen shrubs where they may get lost in the crowd until the showy blooms arrive in late winter. Magnolias thrive in full sun, but they flower satisfactorily under the high shade of neighboring trees.

“Tulip trees” and star magnolias are prize plants that add a touch of class and beauty to any yard.