What I Learned Today: Magnolia tripetala

Magnolia tripetala – commonly called the Umbrella Magnolia. It’s my favourite Magnolia, but possibly only because I grew mine from seed. I’ve written a bit about it before, and I’ve shown a few photos here and there, but today, as the flowers fade and seed heads expand, I learned something new about it, and about plants in general, so I thought I’d share.

In a bit. First, some photos.

Here it is 10 days ago, just starting to bloom, beside a Cornus alternifolia. They both enjoy a semi shaded, protected spot, with soil that doesn’t get too dry. That can be a bit of a challenge here in July and August, some years.
Also 10 days ago, a bit closer. Can you see all the tall, spikey flower buds, some just starting to open? The flowers are quite huge.
Here, from just a few days ago, is a fully open flower. Loads of petals eh? I’ve read the fragrance can be ‘malodorous’ but I’ve not noticed anything stinky about it.
Here’s the same shot, cropped closely to demonstrate how the flowers get pollinated.
Same day, different flower.The cone of seeds will ripen over the summer, turning into a bright red, fleshy bunch of seeds that will drop or be eaten by large birds.
Here’s the same tree, last November. The leaves fall and fly all over the place. They must act like little sails, or kites; I was finding them up by the house and even in the back field all winter and spring.

Finally, for What I Learned Today. The common name ‘Umbrella’ likely comes from how the large leaves are arranged in whorles at the tip of the branch, like spokes of an umbrella. Plus, the overall shape of a mature tree, with its rounded canopy, looks like an umbrella.

But that much is obvious. What I found interesting, and what I learned, was that the botanical name – tripetala – refers to the three sepals – a word I also just learned – that protect the flower bud itself while developing. Very handy up here, a bit north of its ‘natural’ growing range, since we are prone to surprise, late, frosts. You can see them quite clearly in this photo of a flower starting to open:

This tree is widely available in better garden centres all over. For more information about it, you can check out this Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center site, or the Missouri Botanical Garden site.


  1. The sepals of the Southern magnolia fall just prior to bloom. Because the flowers are so high up, we see more of the mess they make on the lawn below than we see of them in bloom. Even though it happens to be the only magnolia that is (or at least used to be) somewhat common here, it was one of only a few that we did not grow on the farm back when we grew magnolias. That is one crop I do not miss. We were not set up for growing them at the time, so many went bad.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. They must be sold in their prime. If they are around another year, they must be moved or ‘spaced’ so that they do not root into the saran, and pruned aggressively to maintain their shape. We lacked the infrastructure to hold them straight, so most leaned, and developed kinks and bowed trunks. Also, we lacked the manpower to go out and tip prune them, so they got all lanky and disfigured. It was a hot mess!
        Rhododendrons are a slow crop that does not mind so much if we are behind schedule with most procedures. It takes a few years for them to go bad.


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