Flowering Trees of Late Spring

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Flowering Trees of Late Spring

Categories: Blog, Garden Guru

Some of our most stunning small flowering trees bloom in late spring and are currently in bloom at Powell Gardens.

Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia) is always a stunner in bloom! Its red flowers attract hummingbirds to pollinate it. This group is in the parking lot’s arboretum of all the woody plants native to Kansas and Missouri. Red Buckeye is native to southeastern Missouri and part of Missouri’s “Grow Native!” program.

Red Buckeye grows slow and steady from a large shrub into a small tree. It matures at about 15 to 18 feet in our area with a wider spread. It leafs out early but also loses its leaves early in late summer. It produces the familiar “good luck” buckeyes in the fall. It grows in full sun or light shade and is native in the understory of woodlands, including the Mingo National Wildlife Refuge where there are stunning stands of this beautiful little tree. It flowers for several weeks with the first bloom opening for the return of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus) is another neat native tree that can be seen in Powell Gardens’ parking lot, though Powell Gardens’ biggest trees are in the Rock & Waterfall Garden. This relative of the lilac and ash tree also grows slow and steady from a large shrub into a squat, wide-spreading little tree. The shaggy clusters of fragrant lime, then white flowers are absolutely breathtaking. They are often called “Grancy Gray Beard” in the South. This little tree is also native to the understory of woodlands in Southern and Southeastern Missouri. It is also part of Missouri’s Grow Native! program.

Fringetree is dioecious: meaning trees usually are either male or female. This is a female bloom and if pollinated will produce olive-like, dark blue fruit by fall that will be relished by birds.

The male tree’s flowers are quite similar and are needed to pollinate the female trees. Sometimes a tree will have perfect (male and female parts on the same flower) flowers.

The huge 8-inch blooms of Umbrella Magnolia (Magnolia tripetala), another Missouri native tree, can also be seen now at Powell Gardens. Our best tree grows just at the base of the ramp from the Visitor Center to the Dogwood Walk. This tree’s flowers are unusually scented: foul to some but like “dark chicken in lemon sauce” to others! The huge leaves form whorls like an umbrella. This woodland understory tree graces woodlands in sheltered ravines near the Arkansas border and south and eastward to Ohio and Pennsylvania. It is the hardiest of the American magnolias and will do well in Minneapolis.

Here’s a view of our Umbrella Magnolia below the Visitor Center in bloom.

The luscious scented Sweetbay Magnolias (Magnolia virginiana) are also in bloom at Powell Gardens. This tree is native from coastal Massachusetts along the coast to Florida and west to East Texas. It ranges inland to Tennessee and Arkansas so is not native to Missouri or Kansas. It is one of our best magnolias for landscaping in this region and always a pleasure as its 2-inch blooms may perfume a large area. Consider planting it near an outdoor seating area. Sweetbay Magnolia is also a small tree, usually 15- to 20-feet tall but must be planted in rich soil that never completely dries out. This would be a great small tree for a wet area or rain garden. You can see many of these trees in front of and around the Visitor Center, on the Island Garden, Rock & Waterfall Garden and in the Perennial Garden.