Early Flowering Magnolia

Early Flowering Magnolia

The Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana) is already in flower in London, following the mild winter. Magnolia trees and shrubs are members of a very large genus containing between 120 and 230 species depending on the classification system used. The genus is named after the French botanist Pierre Magnol. It is an ancient genus with ‘primitive’ flowers adapted for pollination by beetles. The petals, for example, are known as tepals because the sepals and petals are indistinguishable. This is a feature common to plants that appeared early on in the evolution of Flowering Plants. Magnolias are important horticulturally. They are now sold worldwide and many new varieties have been developed. They are grown for their beautiful flowers and their striking foliage. Two common Magnolias – the Saucer Magnolia and Star Magnolia flower in Spring and the Southern Evergreen Magnolia flowers from midsummer. See a previous post for more information. 


Saucer Magnolia tree

The Saucer Magnolia, a deciduous shrub or small tree, is a hybrid between two Chinese species, Magnolia denudata (Yulan), which has white flowers and Magnolia liliflora, which has purple and white flowers. It was initially bred in 1820 in France by a retired cavalry officer Etienne Soulange-Bodin and was introduced to Britain in 1827. It is now the most popular and well-known form of Magnolia, widely planted in parks and gardens. It flowers in early spring, then through the summer. Photo taken in April 11 2019

Saucer Magnolia flower

Vase-like flowers first emerge in March, before the leaves but continue to emerge through the summer. Flowers are white with a pink or purple stain. Photo taken March 19th 2014. This year some flowers are already out in February.

Saucer Magnolia flower styles and stigmas

In this photo some of the tepals have been removed to show the purple anthers and green styles of the sexual parts of the flower. The anthers release male pollen grains. Each style is connected to an ovary. For pollination to occur a pollen grain from another tree must land on the style.

Saucer Magnolia flower after pollen release

Close-up of the flower centre after the pollen grains have been released by the anthers. In Magnolias pollination is mainly carried out by beetles. They are attracted to the flower by sweet-smelling secretions and may shelter and feed in the centre of the flower for several hours. If the anthers release pollen during this time, the beetle gets contaminated with pollen grains. Eventually the inner tepals open and release the beetle which then flies off to other trees and pollinates them.

Silver Maple Red Flowers

Silver Maple Red Flowers

The Silver Maple Acer saccharinum is native to eastern and central North America from Newfoundland to Texas. It was introduced to Britain in 1725 and has been widely planted on city streets and parks. Its leaves are silvery underneath and it has bright red flowers in spring, before the leaves. All images and text taken from the book Field Guide to the Trees of Britain and Europe or the app Tree Guide UK
Silver Maple flowers in February

The tree comes into flower before the leaves, normally in March,  but this year in February following the mild winter. The tree in this photos has only female flowers.

Silver Maple female flower bud

A female flower bud that has just opened. Some trees have all female flowers, some all male and some have both. The flowers are wind-pollinated so have no petals. Each bud opens to reveal several flowers. A single female flower extends 2 long red stigmas to catch wind-blown pollen. They are connected to a single ovary which eventually forms a 2-winged fruit called a samara. The fruits hang down like a Sycamore. 

Silver Maple female flower buds

Female flower buds are located along or at the end of twigs.

Silver Maple female flower buds

When the female flower bud first opens the stigmas are white, then turn red.

More February Flowers

More February Flowers

Following the mild winter, some  flowers are out in February that normally would not be seen until March. Two wild flowers,  the Lesser celandine and the Coltsfoot are in flower as are two trees, the Cherry Plum with white flowers and the Goat Willow with yellow catkins.

Lesser Celandine flower

Lesser celandine Ranunculus ficaria is a native wild flower found in shady areas by streams throughout Britain. It is pollinated by flies and bees. It normally flowers from March to May. It has heart-shaped leaves and 8 to 12 petals. Anthers release pollen before the stigma is receptive but if no insects are present the plant will self-pollinate.

Coltsfoot flower

Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara is generally considered a weed, growing on waste ground, arable fields and bare places. It flowers before the leaves, as shown here. When the heart-shaped leaves appear they are similar to, but smaller than, those of the Butterbur. It is a member of the Daisy family.

Cherry Plum tree

The Cherry Plum is also known as the Myrobalan Plum. It is native to a region from the Balkans to central Asia and has been cultivated in Britain from the 16th century.  It is a thorny shrub or small tree and is frequently planted in urban areas because it is one of the first trees to come into flower in the spring.  It is often confused with the Blackthorn. 

Goat Willow catkin

The Goat Willow is a shrub or small tree also known as Pussy Willow and Great Sallow. It is native to Europe (including Britain) and Asia. In Britain it is found everywhere in woodlands, scrub and hedgerows. The male catkins are yellow when full of pollen in March and April. 

Flowers eBook Released

Flowers eBook Released

The book will appeal to gardeners, horticulture and biology students and anyone who enjoys looking at  flowers in the garden or countryside.

The author is Alan Birkett and this is an eBook available as a download to the Books app of iMacs, Apple Laptops, iPads and iPhones from the Apple Books Store at £4.49. 

Use this link to find the book on Apple Books

It is also available  from Amazon Kindle books as a download to the Kindle Fire and other Android and Apple devices at £4.60, using the Kindle app.

Use this link to find the book on Amazon

The book describes 42 families that between them contain many of the garden and wild flowers found in Britain. There are over 700 photographs covering 424 flowering plant species, 253 of which are found in gardens and 171 in the wild. In each family, the book illustrates similarities and differences between wild and garden flowers.

It explains why flowers take the forms they do and uses close-up photographs  to illustrate pollination and fruit formation. The book describes how species have evolved within families.

February flowers

February flowers

More flowers are out in February than in January. Early flowering Daffodils may already be in bloom. The wild daffodil Narcissus pseudonarcissus  grows in woods and grasslands throughout England and Wales and also in Germany, Portugal and Spain. Plant breeders have produced thousands of cultivars which are grown commercially in Britain, Holland, North America and Australia/New Zealand. Over 25,000 cultivated varieties are listed by the Royal Horticultural Society.

Two dwarf Irises are in flower, the early flowering Iris reticulata ‘Harmony’ and the Algerian Iris, shown below,  which flowers from winter to spring. Also out at this time of year are the Early Crocus, the Wallflower  ‘Bowles Mauve’ and the Heather cultivar ‘Ghost Hills’. 

daffodil February
Algerian Iris February

Algerian Iris Iris unguicularis flowers from winter to spring. It is native to Greece and North Africa. 


Early Crocus Crocus tommasinian

Early Crocus Crocus tommasinianus flowers in February and March. It is native to Eastern Europe and is planted in many gardens and parks in Britain. .

Wallflower ‘Bowles’s Mauve’ February

Wallflower Bowles’s Mauve’ Erysimum linifoliumBowles’s Mauve’ is a sterile, short-lived shrubby perennial.  It is one of the most popular cultivars and flowers from February to July.

Heather ‘Ghost Hills’ February

 Heather ‘Ghost Hills’ Erica x darleyensisGhost Hills is  a cultivated variety based on the  Bell Heather Erica cinerea, which grows on  dry Heaths and Moors. It is a popular garden plant that flowers from February to April.