Monday, April 14, 2008

Saucer Magnolias in Central Park

Saucer Magnolias (Magnolia x soulangiana) are related to some of the oldest angiosperms (flowering plants, as opposed to gymnosperms, or conifers). Some members of the magnolia family are found in fossils that date back to 95 million years ago. Magnolias co-existed with dinosaurs, and survived the extinction event that marked the end of the prehistoric creatures.

Magnolias were the first flowers and were not pollinated by flying insects, but instead by beetles. That's why the seed cones are so rigid and tough (to protect them from the large, chewing bugs). In fact, it was not until after flowers evolved did insects and other pollinators co-evolve to match a food source.

The plant below, the Saucer Magnolia, was not one of these ancient flowers. This is instead a hybrid of M. lilliflora and M. denudata. It's popular for it's large, fragrant flowers that burst open as soon as it gets warm enough.

The magnolias behind the Met in Central Park are the best looking ones I can find in Manhattan, if not the entire city. They sit on this hillside and, with their neighbors, the Crabapples, provide spring color from April until mid to late May. There's nothing quite like going for a run or a bike ride when these are in bloom and catching a whiff of their scent on your way up the hill.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing that comment. =P I needed to know what insect coevolved with the magnolia, which is the beetle, apparently. I also received information that was very useful. The magnolia is one of the oldest flowering plants. I think you'd be interested in the Gingko Biloba tree. It is the oldest tree that is still living today. Thank you again.

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