Monday, June 11, 2012

Majestic Magnolias

Majestic Magnolias Traditional in the deep South, the marvelous Magnolia is well suited for Oklahoma and are in full bloom everywhere. Their deep green leathery leaves have a slightly fuzzy taupe underside and their creamy white flowers speak of the languid heat of summer. Leaves of the Magnolia remain evergreen all year and as with most hard wood trees, their growth is slow. Following flowering the tree produces an interesting ‘fruit’ in the form of a large, conical shaped cone with prickles here and there on its surface. Asian species were introduced to the Americas in 1780 where they were carefully cultivated to produce superior flowers and the deepest lemony scent. The oldest Magnolia on record is 136 years old and lives in Cleveland Ohio. In spite of their sturdy appearance, the showy flowers are quite delicate and must be handled without touching the petals to avoid discolored bruising that will inevitably occur. For this reason they do not fare well in arrangements but are rather cut with a short stem and ’floated’ as a single specimen in a large shallow bowl or vase. The leaves of the Magnolia are decoratively used in many Christmas wreaths and may be cut at their peak and preserved with glycerin. Glycerin is an organic emollient that may be absorbed through the stems of the leaves to preserve their freshness. I remember my Mother going on quests for perfect leaves… driving about neighborhoods then politely asking complete strangers if she could have ‘a few leaves from their lovely tree‘. Perhaps it was her sweet low-country Carolina drawl or her charm that made people pleased and even flattered to gift batches of their leaves! Use one part glycerin to two parts very hot water. Put the glycerin solution in a short plastic wastebasket, cut the magnolia leaves with suitably long stems and pound the bottom of them to open the major artery before submerging the stems in the liquid. The Magnolia leaves will ‘drink’ the glycerin and slowly change from green to a gorgeous chestnut color. It takes three to five weeks for the leaves to absorb the glycerin and when the leaves begin to feel flexible it is time to remove them. They must be hung upside and allowed to dry completely before use. This would be a fun summer project to do with the children and having greenery they helped pick and preserve used during December festivities will form a memory that will last a lifetime. The stunning painting by American artist Martin Johnson Heade is titled 'Magnolia on Red Velvet' circa 1885