In a matter of just days, long dormant buds have erupted across the Arnold Arboretum to put on the first real show of spring. In my wanderings this past week, two accessions took my breath away, with floral displays that are not to be missed.

Magnolia sargentiana and Rhododendron praevernum
Magnolia sargentiana #155-96*A (left) and Rhododendron praevernum #958-87*A at the Arnold Arboretum. Ned Friedman

In the middle of the hickory (Carya) collection, a spectacular Sargent’s magnolia is in bloom (Magnolia sargentiana; 155-96*A; named in honor of Charles Sprague Sargent, the first director of the Arnold Arboretum). The tepals have a spine of deep pink, but peering inside is the highlight, with the interplay of the lightest pink blush and shadows cast by the tepals (left image). In the center, a column of protruding stigmas awaits the deposition of pollen from visiting insects. Ernest Henry Wilson, the great Arboretum plant explorer of the early twentieth century, called Magnolia sargentiana “one of the noblest of its family.” I thoroughly agree.

Over on Chinese Path, in the Explorers Garden on top of Bussey Hill, the somewhat optimistically named February rhododendron (Rhododendron praevernum; 958-87*A) is magnificent, covered with dense clusters of campanulate flowers. One of the earliest rhododendrons to flower at the Arnold Arboretum, the radiating patterns of crimson spots and ellipsoidal curves in the throat of the corolla are stunning. The flowers are producing copious nectar, and if you look carefully, you will see evidence of nectar that has dripped out of the flowers onto subtending leaves.

For a few more pictures of these wonderful flowers, head here.