Laurel or Small Magnolia; Sweet or White Bay ; Swamp Laurel or Sassafras ; Beaver-tree – Flowers

(M. glauca of Gray)

Flowers—White, 2 to 3 in. across, globular, depressed, deliciously fragrant, solitary at ends of branches. Calyx of 3 petallike, spreading sepals. Corolla of 6 to 12 concave rounded petals in rows ; stamens very numerous, short, with long anthers; carpels also numerous, and borne on the thick, green, elongated receptacle. Trunk : 4 to 70 ft. high. Leaves : Enfolded in the bud by stipules that fall later and leave rings around gradually lengthening branch; the leaves 3 to 6 in. long in maturity, broadly oblong, thick, almost evergreen, dark above, pale beneath, on short petioles. Fruit : An oblong, reddish pink cone, fleshy, from which the scarlet seeds hang by slender threads.

Preferred Habitat—Swampy woods and open swamps.

Flowering Season—May—June.

Distribution—Atlantic States from Massachusetts southward, and Gulf States from Florida to Texas.

Every flower its own bo-quet ! ” shouted by a New York street vender of the lovely magnolia blossoms he had just gathered from the Jersey swamps, emphasized only one of the many claims they have upon popular attention. Far and wide the handsome shrub, which frequently attains a tree’s height, is exported from its native hiding-places to adorn men’s gardens, and there, where a better opportunity to know it at all seasons is granted, one cannot tell which to admire most, the dark, bluish-green leathery leaves, silvery beneath; the cream-white, deliciously fragrant blossoms that turn pale apricot with age; or the brilliant fruiting cone with the scarlet seeds a-dangling. At all seasons it is a delight. When most members of this lovely tribe confine themselves to warm latitudes, we especially prize the species that naturally endures the rigorous climate of the ” stern New England coast.”

Beavers (when they used to be common in the East) so often made use of the laurel magnolia, not only of the roots for food, but of the trunk, whose bitter bark, white sap-wood, and soft, reddish-brown heart-wood were gnawed in constructing their huts, that in some sections it is still known as the beaver-tree. According to Delpino, the conspicuous, pollen-laden magnolia flowers, with their easily accessible nectar, attract beetles chiefly. These winged messengers, entering the heart of a newly opened blossom, find shelter beneath the inner petals that form a vault above their heads, and warmth that may be felt by the finger, and abundant food ; consequently they remain long in an asylum so delightful, or until the expanding petals turn them out to carry the pollen, with which they have been thoroughly dusted during their hospitable entertainment, to younger flowers. As the blossoms mature their stigmas in the first stage and the anthers in the second, it follows the beetles must regularly cross-fertilize them as they fly from one shelter to another.