Drinking in the nostalgia of magnolias

Published 9:56 pm Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Biff and I have been on the road, visiting relatives from here to Orlando, this week.

It sure was nice of them to line up in those conveniently spaced, charming coastal towns along our route down the eastern seaboard. At each stop along the way, we enjoyed an array of delicious and refreshing hospitality offered by our equally charming family members, including our children and grandchildren.

This made what otherwise would have been a grueling trip a treat, rather than a treatment, and for this we were most grateful.

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Magnificent magnolias were in full bloom everywhere along the way — in manicured yards, in deeply shaded forests, and in wet, mucky swamps.

Magnolias trees are synonymous with the South. They are huge evergreen trees, with large shiny dark green leaves, and huge, showy, white flowers.

You have to take the term evergreen with a grain of salt in the case of magnolias. They are only evergreen in the mid-Atlantic and southern states.

The “grumpy gardener” of Southern Living Magazine gives a little evergreen disclaimer, stating, “They drop a few leaves every single day.” A few leaves every single day from a 50- to 90-foot tree that has leaves the size of roof tiles can be a big deal for the average homeowner.

They create a deep shade under which there is no growing grass. And limbing them up is in the same category as committing “crape murder.” This is what people do when the tree outgrows the yard — the 50-foot tall tree can also get 50 feet wide.

I’ve never paid much attention to the difference in the ones in yards as compared to the wild ones until recently. Both come under the heading of Southern Magnolia. The ones in yards are mainly cultivars of the Magnolia Grandiflora the ones in the wild are Sweet Bay Magnolias (Magnolia Virginiana).

These are the only two evergreen magnolias native to the Southern United States.

The Chesapeake Bay Program website says that in the Chesapeake Bay region, the Sweet Bay grows to only 20 or 30 feet tall. That sounds much more manageable. They are mainly found in wetlands, swamps and stream banks. We have seen a number of them in the Dismal Swamp and at Lone Star Lakes.

The branches, leaves and flowers are a lot smaller and more delicate than the cultivars found in yards.

I’m a little nostalgic about magnolia flowers, but it doesn’t have anything to do with sickening southern belles and their moonlight and magnolias.

I have a deep sensory connection that involves an intoxicating lemon fragrance wafting up from a single, large, cream-colored bloom. A single, billowing, bloom floating in a cut crystal bowl on anybody’s grandma’s mahogany dining room table. A table so lustrous it reflects, in the deep hues of its wood, the wisdom of the pure simplicity of that centerpiece.

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at b.andrews22@live.com.