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Magnolia acuminata L.

Cucumber Tree

Modern name

Magnolia acuminata (L.) L.

A large deciduous tree 60 to 90 ft high, forming a trunk 6 to 12 ft in girth. Branches at first erect, ultimately arching. Leaves oval to oblong, 5 to 10 in. long, about half as wide, green on both sides, downy beneath; they narrow to a point at the end, the base is rounded. Flowers comparatively inconspicuous, dull greenish yellow; sepals 1 to 112 in. long; petals erect, 2 to 3 in. long, in two sets of three each. Fruits dark red, columnar, 3 in. long Bot. Mag., t. 2427.

Native of eastern N. America, from New York State southwards, reaching its finest development in the S. Allegheny region. This tree, the noblest of American magnolias in growth and the least effective in blossom, was discovered by John Bartram, and introduced by him to England in 1736. It was raised from seed by Peter Collinson, and flowered with him for the first time 20 May, 1762. The flowers have a slight fragrance. The popular name of ‘cucumber tree’ refers to the shape and colour of the fruits when quite young. It ripens seed freely, and young plants make perhaps the best stocks for grafting other magnolias upon, especially the stronger-growing species.

A tree at Kew by the Main Gate measures 52 × 7 ft (1967). Others that have been recorded in recent years are: Waterlow Park, Highgate, London, 65 × 734 ft (1964); Albury House, Surrey, 85 × 7 ft (1966) – this tree was 75 ft high in 1905; Knap Hill Nurseries, Surrey, 50 × 712 ft (1961); Frensham Hall, Shottermill, Surrey.pl. 1905, 78 × 6 ft (1968); West Dean Arboretum, Sussex, 60 × 912 ft, with a 15-ft bole (1967); Fairlawne, Kent, 60 × 9 ft (1965); Westonbirt, Glos., in Main Drive, 68 × 5 ft (1965); Leaton Knolls, Shrops., 75 × 714 ft (1954); Eastnor Castle, Herefi, 52 × 814 ft (1969). In Scotland there is an example at Biel, East Lothian, which was 30 × 5 ft in 1911 and now 40 × 6 ft (1967).

Trees under the name var. maxima are grown at Kew, but except for a possibly more vigorous growth and larger foliage there is nothing to distinguish them. Sent out by the firm of Loddiges about 1830.

cv. ‘Variegata’. – Leaves handsomely blotched with golden yellow.

From the Supplement (Vol. V)

specimens: Kew, nr Main Gate, 54 × 8 ft (1981); Albury House, Surrey, 77 × 7 ft (1973); Knap Hill Nursery, Surrey, 60 × 8 ft (1974); Tilgate Park, Crawley, Sussex, 85 × 634 ft (1984); Leonardslee, Sussex, in Dell, 88 × 6 ft (1984); Mote Park, Kent, 79 × 914 ft and 75 × 634 ft (1984); Canterbury Cathedral Close, 70 × 814 ft (1984); Brockenhurst Park, Hants, 54 × 814 ft (1979); Westonbirt, Glos., 80 × 614 ft (1983); Eastnor Castle, Heref., 59 × 834 ft (1977); Leaton Knolls, Shrops., 70 × 814 ft (1983); Heanton, Devon, 57 × 514 ft in 1905, 74 × 8 ft (1980); Burncoose, Cornwall, 70 × 634 ft (1984); Lingholm, Cumb., 54 × 714 ft (1983); Holker Hall, Cumb., 60 × 514 ft (1983); Tallantine Hall, Cockermouth, Cumb., 65 × 612 ft at breast-height (1976); Margam Park, W. Glam., 88 × 7 ft (1985).

† cv. ‘Golden Glow’. – Flowers yellow (not greenish yellow as is usual in this species). This was propagated from a tree growing in the wild, where such colour forms occur and have been confused with related species or variety M. cordata (M. acuminata var. subcordata).

† M. × brooklynensis Kalmbacher – A group of hybrids between M. acuminata and M. quinquepeta (liliiflora), the first of which were raised by Mrs Evamaria Sperber at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in the 1950s; the cross was later repeated, using different cultivars of the two parent species, by Professor J. C. McDaniel of the Department of Horticulture, University of Illinois. A selection of the first batch, named ‘Evamaria’, has flowers with six broad tepals, coloured rosy magenta flushed with yellow or pale orange. More ornamental is a back-cross of this clone with M. acuminata, made by Doris Stone in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in 1967. From this cross has been selected ‘Yellow Bird’, with well-shaped flowers coloured pure yellow when fully expanded and borne earlier than those of M. acuminata.

† M. acuminata × M. heptapeta. – This cross, made at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, has produced ‘Elizabeth’, which first flowered around 1975. The flowers are primrose-yellow, in late spring. It is reported to be very free-flowering (Rhododendrons 1984/5, p. 51, reprinted from Plants and Gardens, Vol. 35(4)).



Other species in the genus