Tree Talk: The Hill’s exotic, exponential explosion

Posted 4/10/20

How many blossoms were on this magnificent Yulan magnolia at the corner of Willow Grove and Winston? We would guess at least 1000. by Ned Barnard and Pauline Gray No, we’re not talking about the …

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Tree Talk: The Hill’s exotic, exponential explosion

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How many blossoms were on this magnificent Yulan magnolia at the corner of Willow Grove and Winston? We would guess at least 1000.

by Ned Barnard and Pauline Gray

No, we’re not talking about the corona virus. We’re referring to the incredible sylvan floral displays that occur every March along our streets. They start as the Okamé hybrid cherries erupt into clouds of delicate pink blossoms. Then the fireworks really begin when our riotously profligate magnolias unfold their spectacular tepals unobscured by leaves from their gray, downy, fuzzy buds. Laden from top to bottom, a single medium-sized tree may easily bear several hundred flowers.

Colors range from blinding white to cream to delicate pink to deep purple-red in all sorts of combinations. Shapes vary widely, too, from tulip-like configurations to cup-and-saucer arrangements, to goblets, to blazing star-shaped beacons with strap-like sepals varying in number and width, often strongly scented. And as the magnolias begin to pass their flowering peaks in late March, Callery pears unleash their prolific fusillades of pure white flowers, and weeping cherries display their trailing tresses of white blossoms.

As the spring season progresses into April, the Kwanzan cherries explode just as they begin leafing out, bearing countless clusters of sumptuous, pink, 30-petalled flowers. All the while from early March on snowdrops, crocuses, hyacinths, hellebores, daffodils, and forsythias spangle flowerbeds along our streets, and lesser celandine and dandelions bloom on their own with no help from and often to the dismay of our Hill gardeners.

What do all these trees and herbaceous plants have in common? They are all exotics, hailing mostly from Asia with a few from the mid East or Europe. And while this exotic spring blooming is going on, only a few natives—such as red maples and later redbuds and dogwoods—are displaying flowers that attract much notice.

If you would like a profusely illustrated 10-page pdf guide to magnolias, both exotic and native, from Ned’s book on Central Park trees, email us at nedbarnard@gmail.com.

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