Pierre Magnol was an eminent French botanist. He helped scientists understand that plants come in families and not just species. They honored him by attaching his name to the tree that has come to symbolize the American Deep South.

Scarlett O’Hara seemed always to be sitting, standing or strolling under a magnolia, or holding its blossoms in her hands.

The state flower and tree of Mississippi, Grandiflora is the species native to the southeastern United States, and one of the few evergreens. So much is it associated with our neck of the woods that I was surprised to find one in Globe, Ariz., a dusty old mining town.

Handsome and hardy, they make excellent specimen trees. Valued for both the beauty and the shade it gives, the magnolia is one of the top 10 flowering trees in the U.S. It is also used for timber, furniture and large canoes. Animals can feed on both the seeds – beautiful in their own right – and flowers.

An infusion of flower buds is used as a tonic in China to unclog sinuses and nasal passages. The buds are also used as an anti-inflammatory.

The Magnolia Society International says there are now more than 200 species. One is native to a range from the Himalayas to China, so they can be found in a wide variety of climate zones.

In Europe, a man who had betrayed or left his partner and wanted to return gave her magnolias to signify the purity and nobility of his intentions.

I wonder if they ever fell for that?

The Chinese flower of May symbolizes splendid beauty and sweetness. It represents the yin, or the feminine side of life, nature and the universe. It was called “hou po” in China long before taxonomists named it Magnolia officinalis in the 17th century.

The San Francisco Botanical Garden Society tells us that it was one of the first flowering plants to evolve on Earth. Some of its fossils are around 100 million years old. Thus, its meanings of stability, endurance and grace throughout changing years seem appropriate.

Magnolias are so old, in fact, they came into existence before bees; therefore, they are pollinated by beetles. Instead of nectar, they use a fragrant, sugary secretion to attract the insects.

They are soft in color and form but striking in appearance, so a gift of a magnolia to a woman means that the giver appreciates her beauty.

Just like Miss Scarlett, the magnolia is both lovely and strong.

– A reference librarian, Lisa Karen Miller has been gardening and researching plant lore for many years. Have plant lore to share? Email lisalisa13131313@gmail.com.

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