At the end of February, I visited Tallahassee Florida. Tallahassee gets frosts and snow every decade or so--including this year, so in many ways it was still very early spring, but some magnolias were in full bloom. I was enchanted. Here are pictures of magnolias in flower in Tallahassee and especially at Maclay Gardens.
|a single magnolia flower|
Note that these magnolias are flowering without leaves. That increases the visual impact of the flowers, good for attracting pollinators. (There are magnolia species that are evergreen, keeping their leaves all year, and other that drop their leaves but flower after new leaves have grown. Those species were not flowering in late February in Tallahassee.)
In addition to being quite gorgeous, magnolias are an interesting group of plants. Magnolia is a genus of some 200 species in the plant family Magnoliaceae. They have a funny distribution. Most magnolias are native to eastern China and southeastern Asia, but another slightly smaller group is native to the southeastern United States and eastern Central America. But not in between. No English or Spanish or Russian or Iranian magnolias. Nor any from Colorado, California or Chile.
The mind boggles trying to figure out how magnolias could be on the east side of Asia and the east side of North America and not in between. The answer is partly that magnolias are so old that they were around when all the continents were together as a single huge continent (Pangea) and a lizard could walk--no swimming needed--from Tallahassee to Shanghai. There are recognizable fossil magnolias dating back 95 million years (dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago). So getting to those two disparate areas was easier than now.
The second part has to be extinction. Although once the forest across the northern continents stretched from coast to coast, forests between the US Atlantic coast and the Asian Pacific coast died out, leaving just the forests at each end. The magnolias of each area are recognizably magnolias, but they've lived far apart a long time.
Very few flowering plants go back 95 million years, especially not as species that are readily classified in living genera.
And so the magnolia is an relatively common plant whose flower suggests what the first flowers were like, a subject that has kept botanists speculating for centuries. If the flower looks like a "classical flower" to you, well, yes, that would reflect the consensus of botanists.
|white magnolia flower|
|magnolia covered in Spanish moss|
Comments and corrections welcome.
The Magnolia Society: pictures of the species - box along the edge of this article http://www.magnoliasociety.org/ClassificationArticle
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