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  • Writer's pictureAmy Christmas

A Hawaii Artist discovers beauty and more in Island Sourced Materials!

"Mikinolia", Southern Magnolia-Magnolia grandiflora

-4 things you may not know about this Kauai plant

Forest & Kim Starr, Starr Environmental

1. What is it? Mikinolia is a very attractive evergreen tree growing about 25 feet tall in Hawaii. It is member of the Magnolia family. It has decorative thick, leathery leaves which are shiny dark green on the top and a furry copper on the bottom. The leaves are simple arranged alternately on the stem and can vary in size from 4-8 “ long and about half as wide. This plant has a creamy white flower which is big in size from 7-8" in diameter which is stunning but also extremely fragrant. The flowers form on the tips of the branches and typically bloom here in Hawaii throughout the summer and fall. The bloom is followed by a 4'’ seed cone which is also a beautiful addition from its emergence to maturity, changing color from a pink to greenish white to a grey with scarlet red seeds popping out when mature. This tree prefers cooler locations in valleys or in higher elevations. The Southern Magnolia prefers full sun but it will tolerate some shade. It has a moderate to fast growth rate, but requires little pruning to maintain its stately shape. It can tolerate some salt spray and lower temps to about 10 degrees F. It’s growth rate is determined by soil fertility and is a true specimen tree. It can be grown in a container and espaliered or trained against a wall as well.

2. Where did it come from? Magnolia is native to Southern United States from Virginia to central Florida and west to East Texas. It is associated with the South of the US and is even the state flower of Mississippi. Because of its beauty it is cultivated in warmer areas of the world. There was a tree planted at the South Portico of the White House grounds by Andrew Jackson nearly 200 years ago in a tribute to his wife who died shortly after his presidential win, taken from their Tennessee home. President Hoover was said to eat breakfast under the shade of the tree. Barbara Bush commissioned a White House china pattern based on the blooms. It was also a tradition to gift cuttings or seedlings from this tree with Reagan giving to Howard Baker upon his retirement, and the Obamas gifting seedlings to Cuba, Israel, and China as symbols of friendship. The tree was pictured on the back of the $20 bill for decades in the background view of the South Front. The famous tree was cut down in 2018 due to its demise caused by a gash it suffered in the 1940's. The wood of the tree has been used in the construction of furniture, boxes, door sashes. The grain of the wood also made it suitable to be used as a veneer. Magnolias in general contain a bioactive compound in their bark and extracts have been used in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine. It was introduced to Hawaii early in 19th century and first planted in Hanalei, Hawaii.

3. When is the best time for collecting?

We pick the cones at a variety of ages. The Southern Magnolia cones start as light cream to green color and as they mature they change colors from pink to browns. They are especially nice once the seeds start to pop out but before they fully mature and weather to a dark brown or black. The Saucer Magnolia has a slightly different appearance but also has the characteristic bright red seeds.

4. How are the collected plant parts used?

The beautiful stiff leaves dry well and are often used in a fresh or dried arrangement or to make wreathes. We use the seed cones as an decorative element on both baskets and pouches. They have to be sliced at least in half due to their size and we have found them to be attractive on both the outside and inside so will get a different look depending on which side is showing. We also use another Magnolia seed cone from the Saucer Magnolia which is similar but less regular in shape and has white speckles creating additional interest.

*Amy is a University of Hawaii Certified Master Gardener Emeritus, has a Bachelor of Science-Landscape Horticulture degree from Ohio State, has been a volunteer tour guide at NTBG, and is a self-proclaimed "plant nut"! She and her husband Ron have been making and selling their baskets for more than 20 years.



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