A Summer Retrospective—Southern Magnolia

The smothering heat of summer is gone, and from a cooler vantage point, we can look back to one element of summer that has special charm—the southern magnolia. The magnolia is a large tree with dark green, leathery leaves and spectacular white flowers.

Today we look back a few weeks and view images of magnolia blossoms at their most beautiful, from their beginning as flower buds to the end as fruits with developing seeds.

The native range of this tree is the southern Coastal Plain—the Deep South—from South Carolina through parts of eastern Texas, but the tree has been planted throughout the region as an ornamental.


A magnolia flower bud swelling and ready to open.

A flower in early May, unfolding slowly in the cool light of partial shade.


The white petals foretell a grand flower.

A magnolia in full bloom in cool light.

Female flower parts are near the top, showing a curled end; the male flower parts are lower and appear to hug the flower center.

The flowers are airports for flying insects. Magnolias are ancient trees, having evolved before bees, and they are usually pollinated by beetles and other insects. Often the bees arrive late, after pollination has occurred.

Coming and going.

A bumble bee ready to land.

Pollination has occurred and the flower is spent. The center of the flower will grow into a cone-like fruit.

The petals dropped, and the center of the flower has matured into a fruit that is now beginning to shed its bright red seeds.

Two seeds against a sweater. The filament holds the seeds to the fruit until their weight or the wind tears them free to fall to the ground.

A magnolia tree in bloom.

The fruits are growing and the seeds are falling now. The tree is almost ready for winter. We often miss the stages of flowering because they occur in the heat of summer when we tend to stay in air conditioning. With this retrospective, however, we can all revisit the magnolia and its summertime life whenever the mood beckons.