Usefulness and services of the tree :
Features and characters of the individual
Contrary to its appearance as a large-leaved tree, with its cucumber-shaped fruits, it is actually a magnolia and can be recognised by its beautiful flowers. Its genus is one of the oldest in the world. It represents a revolution in reproduction, as older conifers’ reproductive organs were not protected.
Magnolia, a snapshot of evolution
This tree was named Magnolia in honour of Pierre Magnol, a seventeenth-century French (Montpellier) botanist who classified plants into families. The name Magnolia represents an entire botanical family of 240 species, almost all of which originated in North America or Asia.
Not like the others
If you’re looking for a large shrub, with branches covered in oversized white or pale pink flowers, if you're waiting for a blossoming that erupts as if by magic in early spring, you are barking up the wrong tree. The magnolia in Malou Park does not bear flowers like the two species that are better known in our regions: the magnolia grandiflora, cultivated for its enormous white flowers (more than 20 cm in diameter) and the Magnolia × soulangeana (saucer magnolia) widely planted for its ample, pale pink flowers.
To find this particular individual, you have to look for a tree with an unusual silhouette. It looks like a giant bush: with its main branches that start out very low and turn into a trunk, it resembles a candelabra. It is covered in very large leaves that are pale green or almost yellowish. They appear before the flowers bloom. They are oblong in shape and between 10 and 25 cm long. They end in a point: they are said to be ‘acuminate’ (tapering to a fine point), hence the name, Magnolia ‘acuminata’.
Thus, what is spectacular about this specimen is above all its foliage. That being said, it's worth a visit to see it in bloom (in June): its creamy white flowers are very large. But also, for its fruits (August-September). There's a good reason that the magnolia is nicknamed the cucumber tree. You’ll understand why, when you see it: 7 cm long, they project upwards at the ends of the branches. They start out green, but later become coral pink when mature (August-September).
Witness to evolution
The Magnolia belongs to a very old botanical family that first appeared on Earth some 135 million years ago. It was a profoundly revolutionary era in the plant kingdom: in terms of reproduction, it was a turning point. For the first time, plants developed flowers, allowing their seeds to be well protected by a kind of capsule, the ovary of the flower. The magnolia is one of the representatives of the sexual evolution of plants. If you stand beneath this tree at the right moment, you will have the chance to observe the primitive structure of one of the first flowering plants to appear on the planet.
You have to be lucky, though, or have patience, to catch the magnolia in bloom. Its flowers are ephemeral: they live from two to four days. And even then, the viewing time is limited: the flowers close up at night.
Unlike the classic geometry of the rose, magnolia blossoms are not at all symmetrical. There is no seam between the petals, sepals, stamens and carpels. The parts of the flower are positioned along a spiral that is oddly reminiscent of the structure of the pinecone. And they are totally independent of each other. When they fall off, they reveal a cone: the notable oblong, cucumber-shaped fruit. Despite appearances, this large deciduous tree is not classified as a broadleaved tree, but rather as a conifer.
If you like, you can further observe this milestone in the sexual evolution of plants. Not far away from our magnolia, there is a tulip tree that belongs to the same family. The primitive structure of the flower is very clear in this species, as well. Following the magnolia and the tulip tree, flowering plants became increasingly complex: they continued to evolve structures designed to protect the sexual organs and the seeds of the plant.
In the USA, their country of origin, magnolias grow widely in the wooded mountains zones. In the forest, surrounded by other trees, their trunks grow straight: they shoot up, in pursuit of light, losing their shrub-like appearance. But their multiple trunks (the botanical term is multicaulous) remain a reminder of their past as bushes.
When Europeans discovered this species in the Appalachians, they were charmed by its foliage and its astonishing flowering. They introduced it in Europe in 18th century. Today, magnolias are found in many parks and arboretums. Their spreading, pyramidal crown, often oval in shape, casts a pleasant shade on the lawns in summer.
Our magnolia is well acclimated to the Woluwe valley. As a tree that appreciates the rich soil and moist climate, it has had no difficulty whatsoever in feeling at home in the Parc Malou. It is the largest specimen of its species in Brussels. It is a part of the landscape. It was classified, along with the other large trees of the park, at the same time as the Malou Castle. It enters into a dialogue with the late eighteenth century neoclassical house. Having witnessed its renovation, the creation of its parking lot, the development of new lanes, for now, it seems to have remained largely unaffected by all the changes around it.
(Story and photos created by Priscille Cazin https://www.sylvolutions.eu)
This portrait is enriched with an illustration from the Belgian Federal State Collection on permanent loan to the Meise Botanical Garden. See attached. Thanks to the library (heritage collection) for this contribution. https://www.plantentuinmeise.be/en/home/