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.