Muddled about Magnolias? So were we!

How many times have you looked at a gorgeous Magnolia and said to yourself “Should that be flowering at this time of year?” Your surprise is understandable, given that Magnolia blooming times really are confusing. What’s also confusing is that the colour of their flowers are not always the traditional whites, pinks and purple-blushes we know so well.

There are over 210 different Magnolias, and their flowering periods begin as early as July and go right through to autumn. To add to the puzzle, some Magnolias flower on bare wood while others bloom when leaves are on the tree. Some are deciduous and some are evergreen. Perfume is a feature of some Magnolias while others have no scent at all. And to complicate things even further, Michelia, another stunning, flowering tree, has recently and officially joined the Magnolia family. Let’s take a peek at some of the most well-known Magnolias so that when you head to the garden centre (or even out for a walk in your neighbourhood) you can tell one from the other!

Mighty and magnificent

Magnolia Iolanthe

This is a traditional Magnolia – the sort you are likely to encounter in the garden of a grand house or in a park where its petals carpet the ground. It grows to 12 metres high and produces lovely big furry brown buds. These open in mid-spring to produce impressively large blooms (up to 25cm across). Iolanthe’s flowering period is super-long, and its petals are rose-pink on the outside and creamy white on the inside.

Magnolia grandiflora

As its name suggests, this is another biggie (not the sort to grow at home unless you live on a country estate or farm! If you are interested in flower arranging, you will recognise this Magnolia by its leaves which are sought after by florists. The upper side of the leaf is a dark, glossy green while the leaves’ brown backs have an appealing fuzzy texture. Grandiflora flowers in summer when its wide, flat, white blooms perfume the air with their lemony fragrance.

The star of the show!

In early spring, Magnolia stellata delivers a show of shaggy white or pink petals. The flowers often catch our attention when a breeze is blowing as this is when the loose petals seem to dance on the wind. You’ll often spot this Magnolia in home gardens as it grows slowly, and only to a height of 1.5-2.5 metres. It also has an attractive oval shape to its spread – at least in its early years. This Magnolia flowers on bare wood but continues to bloom, especially in a cool spring, as the leaves appear.

Late bloomers

If you spot a Magnolia in flower in summer or autumn, it may be a repeat-flowering variety. It will have bloomed in profusion during spring when it was likely without leaves, but once its leaves are cloaking the tree, it may decide to offer a few more blooms. There won’t be so many but they will be stunning, hiding amidst the greenery. One of the best is Magnolia Apollo, a gorgeous reddish-purple-flowered Magnolia bred by New Zealander Mark Jury. There are also magnolias which flower specifically in summer.

Colour plus

If you spot what you think are Magnolias, but which don’t seem to be the ‘right colour’, your first guess is likely to be correct. Hybrid Magnolias come in stunning shades from lemon-yellow to deep purples, cyclamen-pinks, and reds. Many have been bred in New Zealand. Now that’s something to be proud of!