Many of you would be familiar with the radiant beauty of the magnolia tree. This long-popular species of tree provides a lush, green, shady canopy in the heat of summer but it is even more magnificent in the winter months with its striking architectural-style bare branches, crowned with cup-shaped flowers of elegant beauty. Some varieties can brighten up a dreary garden in winter with a gorgeous show of colour, whilst others have a pure white flower that contrasts with and heightens the beauty of the magnolia’s bare branches.
Known for its beauty, the magnolia also symbolises perseverance, dignity, sweetness and love. But, did you know that scientists have discovered that magnolias can have therapeutic benefits as well?
Magnolia bark (Magnolia officinalis) has been used in traditional Chinese medicine since 100 A.D. to support the body, nurture wellbeing and to treat a range of ailments including abdominal pain, nausea, indigestion and menstrual cramps, as well as coughs and asthma.
In more recent times, Japanese researchers have made some startling discoveries. ‘Honokiol’ and ‘magnolol’, two chemicals found in Magnolia bark, are up to 1000 times more potent than Vitamin E in antioxidant properties! It is believed that these two compounds contribute to the primary anti-stress and cortisol-balancing effects of the plant. Magnolol has also been found to have anti-allergy and anti-asthmatic effects. The stress-lowering properties have been found to have weight loss potential, as well as being 5 times stronger than Valium (diazepam) in reducing anxiety, and without the side-effects. Magnolia also has potential benefits for Alzheimer’s disease sufferers through these two compounds.
The popularity of the magnolia as a beautiful addition to any garden has meant that the plant has become well-adapted and relatively easy to grow. They do prefer a temperate climate in a sunny spot, with a northern or eastern aspect. New plants will need to be protected from frost and mature plants will not like temperatures below zero for extended periods.
Magnolias can be planted at any time of year by either propagating from cuttings in summer, by sowing seeds in autumn or grafting in winter. Plant your tree into improved soil with a thick layer of mulch around the base to keep the roots cool and moist. The roots of the tree are shallow so they won’t disturb underground pipes, foundations or pathways.
New trees can be a little ‘sulky’ for a couple of years after planting but once they have established themselves they are very resilient.
There is no need to prune magnolias, as this only encourages vertical growth, but they do need to be well-watered in the hot summer months. Also, continuing to give your tree nutrient rich mulch will give it the energy it needs to continue to produce its glorious flowers.
Many spring bulbs will flower in unison with magnolias and make ideal companions planted below the tree. Daffodils, bluebells and snowflakes could all be a lovely addition in winter/spring.
In summer, Arum lilies with their spotted leaves and white or green flowers will love the shade canopy of the magnolia.
So, what are you waiting for? The Magnolia is both stunningly attractive and good for you too! Now, or any time, is a good time to add one to your garden.
Photography by Luisa Brimble courtesy of The Garden Clinic