Cucumber Magnolia WHAT??!!

People have been noticing a tree in the Spring Garden on the north side of the Gardens with large leaves and unusual fruit. The biggest trending question in our Visitors Cottage and through our email right now is, What the heck is that beautiful tree with the big fruit? One of our visitors was convinced it was a paw paw tree. It is not. If you guessed Magnolia acuminata, or cucumber magnolia or cucumber tree, you guessed right!

The tree sits west of our Visitors Cottage, across the main path from our Eagle statue and memorial paver stone path, near the Spring Garden.

Cucumber Magnolia is native from New York to Georgia and west to Illinois and Arkansas, with great populations found in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It grows to a large size when happy; fifty to eighty feet tall and almost as wide. It prefers moist, deep, well-drained organic soil. It does not tolerate extreme wet or dry conditions. It is perfect in open sunny settings where it has room to grow and show off its distinctive characteristics.

There are a number of cool features to love about this particular plant. The large leaves are remarkable, with few plants boasting similar sized individual complete leaves. The shape is similar to native paw paw trees; however, paw paws are a suckering understory tree with small, smooth, slightly banana shaped fruit. The leaves and stems of Cucumber Magnolia are semi-fragrant and the bark is smooth and grey when young, becoming ridged and furrowed with age. It puts on a decent gold color in the fall. But the best features, of course, are the large pale yellow flowers in spring and the large scaled maturing golden fruit from which the tree gets its name. The fruit ripens in late summer, splitting open to reveal sizable red seeds.



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Come check out this wonderful native tree with multiple seasonal interests during your next visit to Wellfield!

Josh Steffen
Horticulture and Facilities Manager

3 thoughts on “Cucumber Magnolia WHAT??!!

  1. We grew only a few of these back when we grew magnolias, and most of them stayed on the farm because so few clients knew what they were. The very few that sold were purchased by collectors. You would think that with so many people from the East here, there would be more who are familiar with this tree.

    1. hspaulding111

      It’s a good example of nature’s cycles being overlooked by a majority of folks, which is exactly why we talk about it this time of year; literally hundreds of questions from guests each summer (and that’s only the small percentage that ask!). All good, educational opportunities and we’re glad to be a part of sharing the info — thanks for sharing it on your end, too! 🙂

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