What? No Magnolia Flowers!

sporadic flowering on Saucer Magnolia tree
Sporadic flowering in 2024 on saucer magnolia

We knew there’d be a price to pay for those warm days we enjoyed last February and March, and here it is.  This spring (at least on the ISU campus), magnolia species that we’ve come to depend on for an avalanche of April color, sit quietly in the corner with only a smattering of flowers.  What happened? 

saucer magnolia in full bloom April 14, 2023
April 14, 2023

It’s important to keep in mind that flower buds of some of our most beloved magnolia species such as Magnolia x soulangeana (saucer magnolia), Magnolia stellata (star magnolia), and Magnolia x loebneri (Loebner magnolia) are formed during the previous summer and wait patiently (and perhaps vulnerably) all winter long for their chance to flower the following spring.  But dramatic swings in temperature, going from readings in the 60’s to single digits, can result in the death of flower buds and that is the primary reason so many magnolias are barren this spring.

sporadic flowering on Saucer Magnolia tree April 14, 2024
April 14, 2024

But some magnolias did manage to flower this spring, and in some cases the display was spectacular.  What gives? Well, it’s all about genetics. Let’s use the yellow-flowering Magnolia x 'Butterflies' as an example.  This popular selection was created by crossing the cold-hardy Magnolia acuminata (cucumbertree magnolia) with Magnolia denudata (Yulan magnolia).  And presumably, thanks to the influence of M. acuminata, we have flowers, and lots of them. 

Magnolias that didn’t flower this spring will still produce leaves, and with any luck, will spend the summer recuperating and producing new flower buds that we’ll get to enjoy in 2025.  I’d be curious to know what you’re seeing out there.


Magnolia acuminata x Magnolia denudata 'Butterflies'
Magnolia acuminata x Magnolia denudata 'Butterflies'
influence of Magnolia acuminata
Influence of Magnolia acuminata
low temperature injury to flower buds on saucer magnolia
Low temperature injury to flower buds on saucer magnolia. Flower buds are large and fuzzy at the tips of the branches. Vegetative buds are smaller and are located along the branch.

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