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TRAVEL & ENTERTAINMENT: "Magnicent Magnolias" Are on Display at San Francisco Botanical Garden Beginning January, 2018
Dec 23, 2017
San Francisco has many treasures, from its charming cable cars to its famous bridge over the Golden Gate. But one of its great sights only takes place once a year during the cool and crisp days of winter at San Francisco Botanical Garden where nearly 100 towering magnolias, many rare and historic, defy the chill and erupt into a riot of pink and white blossoms. Velvety silver buds on the often bare branches of these elegant trees open into saucer-sized, vibrant flowers, filling the wintery Garden with dramatic splashes of color and sweetly fragrant scents. The annual floral spectacle, with trees reaching 80 feet, peaks between mid-January and March.
Visitors to the Garden can take advantage of a free Magnolia Walk map, docent-led tours, a magnolia mobile app and more, as well as unique classes and activities, including a Valentine’s Day Happy Hour and special Magnolias by Moonlight tours, to celebrate and learn more about these unique trees.
SFBG is home to the most significant magnolia collection for conservation purposes outside China, where the majority of species originated. The Garden’s current collection includes 54 species and 49 cultivars, including many important specimens from Asia.
This unique and long-standing collection began in 1939 with Eric Walther, who planted the very first magnolia in the Garden and continued to introduce species and cultivars throughout his tenure as the Garden’s first Director. One of the most famous species he planted was the cup and saucer magnolia or Magnolia campbellii, the first of its kind to bloom in the United States in 1940, attracting huge crowds of excited and curious visitors who stood in long lines to see the magnificent large pink blossoms of this lovely magnolia that still stands in the Garden today. More than a dozen other M. campbellii can now also be found throughout the Garden.
“Magnolias have long been the signature flower of San Francisco Botanical Garden,” says Ryan Guillou, the Garden’s Curator. “However, these admired and iconic beauties are in trouble. Nearly half of the world’s magnolias are threatened with extinction in the wild. Very few botanical gardens in the world can grow and preserve the breadth of species that we can, and to see them in bloom is a true San Francisco treat.”
The Magnolia family – Magnoliaceae, named for botanist Pierre Magnol in 1748 – is considered by paleobotanists to be one of the earliest flowering plant families. Magnolia fossils date back nearly 100 million years to the time of the dinosaurs. The flowers were pollinated by beetles since winged bees had not yet evolved at that time. Survivors of several ice ages, magnolias thrived in the protected mountains of southern China, the southern United States, southern Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Eighty percent of the more than 247 species occur in Asia.
In addition to the flagship M. campbellii, some of the other prized magnolias in the Garden’s collection include:
Magnolia campbellii 'Darjeeling' – Propagated through cuttings from a tree growing in the Lloyd Botanic Garden in Darjeeling, India, this Himalayan species is thought by many to be the most spectacular of all the magnolias that bloom at the Garden with magnificent deep pink flowers emerging on leafless branches in a dramatic display.
Magnolia campbellii ‘Strybing White’ – A special white form of Magnolia campbellii grown from seed purchased in India in 1934 and propagated at the Golden Gate Park Nursery. Planted in 1940 here, it is the largest magnolia at the Garden towering over 80 feet.
Magnolia denudata – One of the most beloved of all magnolias. Called the "Yulan" or "Jade Lily" by the Chinese due to the exquisite lily shape of the blossoms with their often pure white petals, this species has the longest history of cultivation going back to the Tang Dynasty - 618 AD. Its beauty was celebrated on ancient Chinese embroideries, scrolls, and porcelains in scenes of the countryside. Its elegant flowers made it a "gift worthy of an emperor." Magnolia denudata was the first magnolia from the East introduced to the western world when it was brought to England in 1780, and is one of the parents of many hybrids popular today.
Magnolia zenii – The rarest magnolia in the Garden is listed as critically endangered. Only a few dozen of these plants were discovered in China in 1931.
Magnolia amoena – Also known as charming magnolia, this gift from the Shanghai Botanical Garden was presented to the Garden by then-Mayor Diane Feinstein in 1982. It was discovered on Mt. Hwang in China in 1933, one of the last magnolias discovered in the wild.
A free Magnolia Walk map, highlighting key species and their location within the Garden, is available to the public. A free magnolia mobile app is available as well, providing a dynamic, searchable map of the collection. The Garden also offers free magnolia docent tours and hands-on interpretation stations on most weekends.
Visitors can enjoy a special digital exhibition of stunning magnolia illustrations from rare books in the Helen Crocker Russell Library of Horticulture, Northern California's most comprehensive horticultural collection. The Rare Book Room is not open to the public so this is an excellent opportunity to see these beautiful illustrations. In addition, visitors can find over 250 magnolia related items in the publicly accessible book collection, and the library will feature a special magnolia book display during the month of February. Free bibliographies for children and adults will also be available on a variety of magnolia-related themes.
In the Bookstore, visitors enjoy special discounts on magnolia items including greeting cards, books, posters and more.
Get the inside scoop on the Garden’s magnolia collection with a walking tour led by one of our curatorial staff. Learn about the history and importance of the collection, and get tips on growing your own in the Bay Area. Bring your cameras and take home a lasting memory of these precious blooms.
Something magical happens when you stroll among the magnolias in the moonlight. The blooms reflect the silvery moon, and the sweet fragrance is intoxicating. Full moon walks, led by knowledgeable docents, are a special occurrence not to be missed. The walking tour includes a refreshment stop for hot tea and delicious treats. Bring a flashlight. Heavy rain cancels.
The Garden invites you to schedule a private walking tour during this special time of Magnificent Magnolias for your group of 10 or more people. Garden tours last about one and a half hours and are led by knowledgeable volunteer docents. Larger groups will be split into smaller groups with 10-15 visitors per docent.
San Francisco Botanical Garden, located in Golden Gate Park with entrances on 9th Ave at Lincoln Way and on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive off the Music Concourse, is open 365 days a year at 7:30 AM. Last entry changes with the seasons as follows: 5 PM October – early November; 4 PM 1st Sunday in November – January; 5 PM February – early March; 6 PM 2nd Sunday in March – September. Admission for San Francisco residents (with proof of residence, e.g., CA ID with SF address, or photo ID and utility bill) is FREE. Admission for non-residents is $8 general, $6 youth 12-17 and seniors; $2 children 5-11; children 4 and under FREE. Families of 2 adults and one or more child pay just $18. Admission is FREE to all visitors daily from 7:30 to 9 AM, as well as the second Tuesday of every month. The public should call (415) 661-1316 or visit www.sfbotanicalgarden.org for more information.