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Sweetbay Magnolias and Indian Cucumbers

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

"floral fragrance magnificent magnolia summer has arrived"

Author: Caren Krutsinger

SWEETBAY MAGNOLIA (Magnolia virginiana)

If you find yourself out walking our trails this week, or paddling on the pond, and you notice a lovely, sweet aroma in the air, you are probably somewhere near a Sweetbay magnolia tree. Sweetbay magnolias are in bloom right now, the only magnolia native to Delaware. Found in wet areas of Delaware, primarily in Kent and Sussex counties, the very fragrant two to three-inch, creamy white flowers open in the mornings and close again at night for 2-3 days.

Lightning bug (Photuris lucicrescens) on a magnolia blossom

However, they don’t last long if picked, even if put in water, so they are best left on their tree. The trees will flower sporadically until the first frost.

Spent magnolia blossom with the seed pod just beginning to form.

After flowering the trees produce pods, somewhat like pine cones, that contain a number of bright-red seeds.

Magnolia seed pod

My Magnolia Tree

Worms and birds and flowers flying

Around my Magnolia Tree.

There are leaves and flies and butterflies and bumblebees

On my Magnolia Tree.

My Magnolia

Tree is big.

It is a healthy

Magnolia Tree

There is much stuff

On my Magnolia Tree.

I like my Magnolia Tree.

Author: Susanne Stadler’s young son.

The bark of Sweetbay Magnolia trees is smooth and gray in color. Magnolia trees are considered deciduous to semi-evergreen, depending on exactly where they are growing. The shiny, dark green leaves, four to six or more inches long and silvery on the underside, can be used in flavoring soups and stews the same way you would use bay leaves. It is recommended that you start out with smaller pieces because of their strong flavor.


INDIAN CUCUMBER (the Dr. Seuss plant)

Indian cucumber (Medeola virginiana)

Indian Cucumber (Medeola virginiana) is a somewhat rare wildflower, native to Delaware, and found in moist woodlands. It grows from tuber-like rhizomes that produce a single tall, slender, stalk, 12-24 inches tall, with whorled leaves in two tiers, not unlike something that Dr. Seuss might have dreamt up. Greenish-yellow flowers resembling tiny lilies (Medeola is a member of the Lily (Liliaceae) family) are drooping from the upper leaf tier at this time of year.

Top tier of an Indian cucumber plant

Younger, non-flowering plants will only have the lower tier of leaves. By late July green berries will appear and will turn a bluish-purple as they ripen.

Although I have not tried them, the tuber-like rhizomes are said to smell and taste somewhat like cucumbers and were eaten by the native Americans. However, they are no longer an abundant plant, so it’s best to leave them be and just take pictures.

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1 Comment

Jun 24, 2023

What a great article! I am a huge fan of the Magnolia virginiana; their waxy beauty and scent. I do love to put one into a large shallow dish with pebbles or glass beads and although they don't last long, it's worth replacing them every couple of days to enjoy them indoors. Some of the loveliest paintings of them are by Martin Johnson Heade and one of these was selected for a postage stamp in 2004.

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