For some months now, we’ve been studying the Great Magnolia Swamp at Ravenswood Park in Gloucester, which is overseen by The Trustees of Reservations, for a documentary video we’re developing. Because the swamp is home to native sweetbay magnolias (Magnolia virginiana), which are common in the American South, but are so rare here that they’re “listed under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act as endangered.”
Then on Oct. 3, we received the regular email newsletter from William (Ned) Friedman, director of Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum in Boston: “Magnolias in flower usually draw lots of attention in the spring and early summer, but magnolias in fruit are equally show-stopping. Watching the fruits mature and split open to reveal gorgeous pink, orange, or red seeds should be part of every magnolia-lovers annual rituals. The key is to catch the moment when each of the many seed chambers (follicles) opens to reveal one or two beautiful seeds. In just the past few days, several magnolia species have been dazzling at the Arnold Arboretum.”
So a week later we visited the magnolias at Ravenswood, but found none gone to seed. But yesterday, we saw the Arboretum’s fruiting magnolias. They have these little red seeds, a bit like corn or pomegranates. Watch out for the stinging nettles along the creek where the trees grow!
“Once the follicles open to reveal the seeds (upper left and lower right images), the pink to red (or even green) outer fruiting structure rapidly fades, turns brown, and shrivels,” Friedman writes in his newsletter. “…To see magnolia fruits and seeds for yourself, head to the heart of the magnolia collection at the Arboretum (it surrounds the Hunnewell Building [visitor center]). Typically, there are only modest numbers of fruits on each tree (and indeed, some trees will not have any), but look carefully and you will be rewarded. Then head to the hickory collection near the Centre Street Beds, where bigleaf magnolias abound in the understory.”
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