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Egg magnolia in blossom

March 12, 2013

We just said goodbye to 17 students and teachers from the Christian German School in Chiang Mai, and while waiting for the next group of visitors (orchidologists) I noticed the egg magnolia is in blossom (Magnolia liliifera, Magnoliaceae).

Magnolia liliifera.March12.2013.72The egg magnolia is native to northern Thailand and much of Southeast Asia but only found in evergreen areas. At Dokmai Garden we grow it in a shady area near where we wash the dishes. The fragrance is said to be like guava, but I think of melon and Ketsanee proudly emphasizes Thai melon. The wood is strong like in other magnolias so it is a preferred material for tool handles. Note the red ant guardians on the flowering stalk.

Magnolia liliifera egg.72The discarded flower indeed looks like an egg. The original attachment of the petals were to the left. This picture was taken on March 13, 2013, one day after the picture above.

There are over 50 scientific synonyms of this beloved magnolia and it was once included in the genus Talauma (‘Talauma’ is a local name for Magnolia (Talauma) dodecapetala syn. Magnolia plumieri in Martinique in the Caribbean). The egg magnolia’s scientific name ‘liliifera’, coined by Linnaeus in 1762 as Liriodendron liliifera, means ‘carrying lilies’. A Central Thai name according to Tem Smitinand is ‘yihup’, but that name may also be used for the much smaller Magnolia coco (yihup noi, yihup nu) and the closely related (conspecific?) Magnolia siamensis (yihup pri). Never use a dictionary to identify a plant since vernacular names are not exact, but you may want to use a vernacular name after making a proper botanical identification using a flora. Flora of Thailand 2:3 (251-268) from 1975 is partly obsolete as it was written before the dawn of molecular analyses largely revising the Magnoliaceae family. A newer treatment of Thai Magnolia can be downloaded here. Leaf measurements vary significantly between literature and to my experience is highly variable even within a tree (25-50 cm in the specimen above) and so often unreliable for species identification.

I thank Hans Nooteboom in the Netherlands and Pieter Bekkers in Australia for fruitful discussions and comments to tune this blog.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

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