Magnolias in flower usually draw lots of attention in the spring and early summer, but magnolias in fruit are equally show-stopping. Watching the fruits mature and split open to reveal gorgeous pink, orange, or red seeds should be part of every magnolia-lovers annual rituals. The key is to catch the moment when each of the many seed chambers (follicles) opens to reveal one or two beautiful seeds. In just the past few days, several magnolia species have been dazzling at the Arnold Arboretum.

Magnolia Seeds Friedman
Ned Friedman

Once the follicles open to reveal the seeds (upper left and lower right images), the pink to red (or even green) outer fruiting structure rapidly fades, turns brown, and shrivels (upper right and lower left images). I am always amazed by the number of seeds that seem to go begging for a bird to consume and disperse them at the Arboretum. Perhaps there are tastier items on offer in a landscape that hosts roughly 2,100 species of temperate woody plants?

Clockwise from top left: Magnolia macrophylla ssp. macrophylla, bigleaf magnolia, 960-89*AMagnolia macrophylla ssp. ashei, dwarf bigleaf magnolia, 396-96*BMagnolia stellata, star magnolia, 808-60*AMagnolia acuminata, cucumber tree, 334-2011*A.

To see magnolia fruits and seeds 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 fruits on each tree (and indeed, some trees will not have any), but look carefully and you will be rewarded. Then head to the hickory collection near the Centre Street Beds, where bigleaf magnolias abound in the understory.