Recently, I have been chasing magnolia fruits. While magnolias in flower are well known show-stoppers, magnolias in fruit are equally striking—but not quite as renowned. Can you conjure an image of the large, vibrantly colored cone-like aggregate fruits of magnolias (for example, Magnolia tripetala, the umbrella magnolia, 370-42*A, left image)? The shiny orange, pink or red seeds being disgorged from their chambers? Once you develop an eye for magnolias in fruit, you can’t miss them.
The thing to catch is the moment when each of the many seed chambers (follicles) splits open to reveal one or two beautiful orange to red ripe seeds (middle image, Magnolia tripetala, 933-76*K). Quickly, the color fades and the entire fruiting structure turns brown and shrivels (right image, Magnolia tripetala, 933-76*I). This past week, the umbrella magnolias put on a great show with seeds on offer to those birds lucky enough to call the Arnold Arboretum home.
To see magnolia fruits for yourself, head to the heart of the magnolia collection at the Arboretum (it surrounds the Hunnewell Building). Typically, there are only modest numbers of fruiting structures on each tree (and indeed, some trees will not have any), but look carefully and you will be rewarded. Then head to my Flickr site where I have assembled a set of my favorite pictures of magnolia fruits from A (Magnolia acuminata) to Z (Magnolia zenii). Make sure you make it to Z to see the zen magnolia (Magnolia zenii) with really weird, convoluted, and blobby fruiting structures—a result of some seed chambers being empty and others filled with one or two large seeds.