I love meeting new plants, and on a recent visit to the San Francisco Botanic Garden I came across a plant that really caught my eye- Magnolia laevifolia ‘Strybing Compact’. It is definitely a compact Magnolia both in stature and flower. According to the SF Botanic Garden website the plant has been there for 15 years and has reached 5-6 feet in height and slightly less in width.
The flowers are rather dainty as well, only about 2-3 inches wide when fully open, the flowers having been preceded by beautiful brown, velvety buds.
The magnolia genus is pretty interesting, as they’re one of the oldest flowering plants on the planet, one of the first to diverge from the gymnosperms (conifers, cycads, Ginkgos, and Gnetales). They evolved in a time when there were relatively few pollinators available (bees and butterflies did not even exist yet!) and are typically pollinated by beetles (though I believe they can be pollinated by bees as well). Their fruits are generally large and are a bit reminiscent of cones, but at maturity obviously quite different with red seeds being exposed that are quite popular with birds.
No this plant is not native to San Francisco – indeed no Magnolias are native to any of the western states, primarily being found east of the Mississippi (and Texas) in the United States and many species also originating from China, Central America, the West Indies, and South America. Still, a beautiful and stalwart garden addition. Unfortunately not readily available in cultivation, but if you live in the SF Bay Area you may be able to track a specimen down at their upcoming annual plant sale, May 3, 2014: http://www.sfbotanicalgarden.org/plant-sales/annual-plant-sale.html.
Though I do feel I should be. Strictly native that is. It is so very difficult though not to find myself swooning over a flower, a leaf, or even the twining tendril of some foreign plant to the point where I feel I must have this plant in my garden. My most recent enchanter was Helleborus ‘Penny’s Pink’ (aka Lenten Rose) which I came across at the San Francisco Botanic Garden plant stand.
My guilt makes me curious- need I feel so guilty? To be sure, a yardful of natives would certainly provide more “natural” habitat and resources for local fauna. Though one must always use the word natural with consideration, as really, what is natural about my urban backyard in the first place? And what fauna will be provisioned by my backyard habitat? At the very least, I would hope that it could provide some sort of resource for some visitor or resident- be it pollen, nectar, or maybe at the very least a bit of shelter (it could end up just being an additional resource to the slugs in the garden- argh!)
So, a closer examination of my Lenten Rose. Largely of European origin Wikipedia tells me (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hellebore). The colorful parts of the flower are actually not petals, as is typical but modified sepals, while the petals have evolved to form nectaries (also referred to as honey leaves).
My first question is, what pollinates it? A quick search of the web lead me to this site: http://www.helleborus.de/engl/botany.htm, which tells me that Helleborus species aren’t fussy about who pollinates them. Which makes sense considering that as early as these plants flower (early spring- March here in San Francisco, other parts of the U.S. later, the Missouri Botanic Garden states April) that fussiness would be a problem for pollination and seed set as there just aren’t that many pollinators around. Though an online journal article (http://aob.oxfordjournals.org/content/96/5/845.full.pdf) indicates that the genus is primarily pollinated by bees.
So maybe eventually one of our Yellow-Faced bumble bees will eventually find this plant and find the pollen and nectar a lovely additional resource at this early season when there isn’t a whole lot else blooming in the garden. And I’ve yet to hear of Helleborus being invasive, so seed set and distribution I shouldn’t think will be a problem. And perhaps a spider will set up shop under its leaves, and our friendly California Towhee who loves to scratch around looking for bugs will find it a good place to find lurking spiders and yummy insects.
Oh good! Perhaps a not-so-bad addition to our garden! And I get to swoon (with little guilt) over the flowers every spring too…and hopefully someday will witness a pollinator enjoying a drink of nectar from the honey leaves.