Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the February 23, 2009 Newsletter, issued from near Natchez, Mississippi:
LILY MAGNOLIA FLOWERING

Karen's flowering Lily Magnolia is just as showy as the plum trees, though in a very different way, more mellow than sharp, warmer than the plums' "mountain path." Lily Magnolias are deciduous-leaved, 10-ft-tall bushes, with hand-size, pinkish flowers, as shown below:

Lily Magnolia, MAGNOLIA LILIFLORA, flower

Lily Magnolias, MAGNOLIA LILIFLORA, around here more commonly called Tulip Magnolias, shouldn't be confused with Saucer Magnolias, M. soulangena, who produce similar large, pink flowers on leafless branches. Saucer Magnolias constitute a hybrid between our Lily Magnolia and M. denudata. Saucer Magnolias make larger plants, becoming small trees, and I think they're more commonly planted, at least farther north, than Lily Magnolias. In the above picture notice that the curling-back sepals at the base of the petals are just a fraction of the petals' length. In Saucer Magnolias the sepals are about half as long as the petals. Lily Magnolias are definitely shrubby, producing several slender stems from the base, while Saucer Magnolias are more tree-like.

Lily Magnolia, MAGNOLIA LILIFLORA, flower cross section

Above you see a cross section of a Lily Magnolia blossom showing typical magnolia flower anatomy. The white, oval item from which the purplish things arise is an elongated receptacle providing a foothold for the flower's sexual parts. The upwardly curving things are male stamens whose white sides are anther cells with slits that later will open to release pollen. Having numerous stamens is a prime feature of the Magnolia Family.

The pineapple-like structure atop the receptacle is the female gynoecium consisting of numerous pistils aggregated into a cone-like body. Most other flowers bear just one pistil, which consists of stigma, style and ovary, but here several pistils are crammed together into one structure, and that's another important feature of the family.

Having many stamens and several pistils in each flower is considered to be "primitive" -- to have appeared early during flowering plant evolution. When I was a student all flowering plants were divided into monocots like grasses and lilies, and dicots like daises, roses and a huge number of other flowering plants. Gene sequencing has shown that it's much more complex than that, and that magnolias aren't "core dicots," or "eudicots." Magnolia-type species broke off from other flowering plants about the same time monocots and "core dicots" separated. You can see this represented schematically in the branch of the Evolutionary Tree of Life presented at http://www.backyardnature.net/amborell.htm.