As I may have mentioned once or twice I am slightly obsessed with magnolia trees in bloom. Whangarei is a particularly fine town for magnolias and the past few weeks have been greatly enhanced by spotting them hither and yon on my travels through town. Aside from my wonderful childhood memories of sheltering in a beloved magnolia tree I think there are several reasons why I'm willing to make an exception to my favouritism of fragrant flowers (though I did recently meet an unusually strong sweet-smelling magnolia in the rose gardens downtown).
I love them because of their luminous purity. The pale pink ones show this trait most strongly, but even the dark magenta blooms seem to glow with an inner light. I think this might be because the petals are so fleshy and the pigmentation sits on top of a deep icy whiteness that much catch the light and reflect it. Blossoming as they do in the middle of winter, they seem to light up grey days with warmth and beauty. Magnolias start blossoming on bare branches in the depth of winter, for a week or two the trees are covered in luminous pink and then soft green leaves join and eventually overtake the flowers.
The two families of magnolia that I am passionate about are tulip and star. Tulip magnolias are the ones with a few big firm petals which start in something of a tight tulip-like bud before splaying indolently outwards. They are the most elegant shaped blooms and come in a wide palette of cream through pink to magenta. (See picture above).
Star magnolias tend to the paler shades of the magnolia spectrum. They have many thin floppy petals and I have a physical reflex to the sight of a star magnolia: I can't help but stretch and wriggle my fingers like a baby. Star magnolias seem both wanton and innocent to me and somehow make me think of fluttering angels wings.
If you get up close to a magnolia petal, whether still blooming on the tree or part of the carpet fallen below the branches, they are delicious to the touch. Cool, tender, moist but not sticky, remarkably like the fresh sweet skin of a baby's belly, they are pleasant to hold and stroke until they begin to bruise brown. Eleanor and I met on one of my magnolia pilgrimages a few years ago and Iremember her special interest in fallen tulip magnolia petals imprinted by shoe sole or tire tracks.
To honour this glorious plant I am introducing a new award: Magnolia of the Year. Consideration is solely dependant on my awareness of the tree, so it helps if it is visible to the public and not hidden in a private enclave. The criteria for winning is arbitrary and opaque. The prize is being highlighted on this blog.
And the winner of the inaugral award for Magnolia of the Year 2006 is this fine specimen currently blooming opposite Cafe Narnia on Kamo Road in Kensington, Whangarei. It's just started flowering so will be at it's best for at least another week or maybe three.
What is so remarkable about this particular magnolia tree? 1. It is so tall and so lavishly blossomed that it practically lights up the neighbourhood. 2. I was facinated by this tree even before the blossoms revealed it's identity as magnolia because of the 'hula skirt' (thanks Ash) modestly obscuring the lower trunk. 3. It happens to have exacty the same kind of cream and magenta coloured tulip blooms as my childhood companion tree so it gets points for nostalgia value.
NB Nominations are now open for 2007's Magnolia of the Year Award so feel free to write in about your favourite tree. Next winter the judge might take a tour before making her decision.