Lovingkindness: My Experience Growing Grandiflora Magnolias From Seed

Magnolia Grandiflora watercolor and ink by Julianna Paradisi 2019

Two years ago, I became enamored of magnolia trees. It began with my observations of a particular tulip magnolia tree I passed by while walking to work and home from work, almost daily.

Portland’s neighborhoods are rich in many varieties of magnolias, and soon I found myself fascinated by the multi-lobed pods of other varieties such as Little Gem, and of course, Magnolia grandiflora, also known as the southern magnolia, or bull bay.

I collected a few fallen pods from sidewalks, and decided to try growing seedlings. I’ve grown houseplants and gardens most of my life, and supposed growing magnolia grandiflora from seeds would be as simple as planting them into potting soil, placing them on the windowsill, and providing lovingkindness. After a couple of months of trying to cajole growth from the pots, I was disappointed: Nothing sprouted. So I did some research. Magnolia grandiflora seeds require several steps of preparation before planting. There’s actually a 6 month process to starting magnolias from seed.

A year ago this autumn, I collected new pods with fresh seeds, and tried again. This time I was successful, but magnolias seeds are so fussy, it’s a wonder to me they are able to survive in the wild at all. They require a great deal of lovingkindness.

I planted nine seeds, and this spring eight of them sprouted, but not without complications. Three broke ground upside down, roots skyward. With the gentleness of a nurse who once cared for tiny, premature babies, I replanted them roots down. Only one survived the procedure.

Another pair could not break free of their seed casings even though I had removed the tough outer shells with sandpaper before planting as instructed. Their tender leaves withered within their tiny prisons.

Four hardy seedlings survive. I gave one to my mother-in-law, who is a master gardener and I suspect will have the ultimate success with her tiny charge. It sits on a table facing west, with a view of the Pacific Ocean; what or who wouldn’t thrive with expert lovingkindness in such a favorable location?

The other three seedlings face east on my windowsill in Portland with a partially obstructed view of the Willamette River. So far, they too are thriving.

Above is an ink and watercolor painting I made of the largest of the trio.

According to Wikipedia, magnolias produce their first seed pods at ten years of age, but the height of production occurs at 25 years.

Really, it’s a wonder magnolias have survived through the centuries at all.

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