Magnolia Festival Sunday - May 28, 2006

Unitarian Church - Fredericton, NB

Words About Magnolias”


Debby Peck

  Magnolia bloom

But now at last Maytime is here;And birds sing from a leafy screenIn the trees and hedgerow freshly green;And the wood-anemone is out in the shade,With its blushing petals which too soon fade;Once more the bracken is unfurling there,And bluebells gently perfume the damp air.- Veronica Ann Twells, Maytime

I’ll add to these words by Veronica Ann Twells by saying that May in New Brunswick is also a time for Magnolias - one of the most ancient species of flowering plants of which this church has a special and significant example that we are offering thanks and recognition for today.

What are Magnolias? That same question was asked by early European plant hunters on their tours of Eastern and Central North America and in China and other parts of Malasia where Magnolias are part of the native flora. The striking and stately nature of this group of flowering trees and shrubs caught the attention of these botanists who were sent to these regions of the world to acquire new and unique plants for European gardens. Imagine the excitement of these plant explorers when they first found a mature Magnolia, in full bloom in the wild. It was surely the same feeling that we have today when the Magnolias in our gardens show their first blossoms each spring!

The discovery of Manolias by learned botanists was followed by the assigning of a name for the species. A trend back then and one that continues today in the scientific community was to immortalize a notable individual by giving his or her name to another living thing. Manolias were named in 1703, by Charles Plumier, one of the first individuals to publish a botanical work about the American flora. He was studying a beautiful flowering tree from the island of Martinique at the time and decided to name it in honor of a highly regarded plant expert of the day, Pierre Magnol. Magnol was director of the botanical garden in Montpellier, France in the late 1600s. He is known for his great influence on the science of botany...indeed, his ideas for classifying the world of plants was incorporated into the work of Carolus Linnaeus.

Magnolias can be both deciduous (i.e. losing their leaves each autumn) or evergreen, but all flower in the early spring. They are the state tree and the state flower of Mississippi and they are likewise prized by horticulturists who have hybridized them and planted them for show in some of the word’s most famous botanic gardens. Most species grow in more tropical climates than New Brunswick, but some of the new hybrids have greater winter hardiness so we are now able to have them in our local landscapes to admire and enjoy.

Herbalists have known about the plant’s natural medicinal qualities for centuries. Through history Magnolia bark has been prescribed as a cure for headaches, fever, cold, asthmatic reactions and the relief of anxiety. It was a substitute for quinine to treat malaria and typhoid. It was sometimes chewed as an aid in smoking cessation.

Artists have always recognized the beauty and grandeur of Magnolias in famous paintings and murals. The scent of Magnolia blossoms has been the base of many intoxicating perfumes. Songs and poems have been written about Magnolias!

Magnolias are sturdy, rugged plants that have endured many catastrophic, geological events through the aeons of time. They have deep tap roots to keep them anchored in the soil. They have thick and impenetrable bark that is resistant to fire. Their seedlings can survive in the shade of a mature forest, waiting patiently for the large trees around them to die and fall, opening the canopy for the tiny, perseverant Magnolia to finally grow tall and strong. Most recently,Magnolias have been adopted as a symbol of longevity and endurance by the regions of the United States that were most heavily damaged by hurricane Katrina! Isn’t that a fitting tribute to this amazing tree and to the people suffering from that natural catastrophe!

In closing, I’ll ask you to compare the strength of the church and the strength of your faith to the strength of the Magnolia. These amazing plants show marks of tolerance, perseverance, fortitude, incredible strength and the will to survive the persecution of the natural world around them. They have an admirable character that truly rates the theme of your celebration today.