Cucumber magnolia (Magnolia acuminata) is a medium to large deciduous tree with straight trunk and broadly pyramid-shaped crown with upper branches curved upwards and lower branches drooping. Leaves have an alternate leaf arrange and are large with a pointed tip and wavy edge. The top of the leaf is yellow-green and the underleaf is pale green. Twigs are stout, reddish-brown to grayish and aromatic. Bark is furrowed (vertical grooves separated by ridges) with straight, flat-topped ridges and gray-brown. Flowers are 2” long with six greenish-yellow tepals (part of the outer flower) that appear with leaves between March and June. Fruit is red-brown, and not hairy. Cucumber tree is the only magnolia with yellow-green flowers and is commonly cultivated as a large and attractive shade tree. The specific epithet describes the pointed leaf tips (acuminate). The genus name honors Pierre Magnol, French botanist (1638 – 1715).
Common name: Cucumber Tree, Mountain Magnolia, Indian Bitter
Scientific Name (family and order): Magnolia acuminata L. (Magnoliaceae, Magnoliales)
Species Origin: Eastern North America
New Jersey Status: USDA Native
Habit: 50 – 100’ high, bole 2 -3’ diameter. Medium sized tree; narrow crown of upright to spreading branches an slender branchlets. Lower branches of open-grown trees tend to droop low to the ground. Older trees have stocky trunk, buttressed base.
Habitat; Zones 3 -8; moists forests.
Trunk/Stem: Short straight stout trunk. Bark is dark gray-brown, furrowed and scaly; notably it is the only Magnolia with furrowed bark and yellow-green flowers. Twigs have spicy-sweet scent when broken.
Leaves: Deciduous, Simple, Alternate. The leaves 6 – 12” long, ellipitic to broadly elliptic to ovate, 10” long x 6” wide; margin entire but slightly wavy with a sharply pointed (acuminate) tip; the blades are yellow-green above and pale slightly downy beneath. Autumn color golden yellow or brown.
Flowers: Perfect. 2 ½ to 3 ½ “ wide flower, yellow-green to bright yellow; bell-shaped with 9 vertical oriented tepals (the 3 outer tepals are reduced). The flower sits upright at the end of a twig. The flower is slightly fragrant. The flowers contain numberous yellow stamens. The opened flowers have papery bud scales. Flwoers open with leaves between March and June.
Fruits and seeds: The fruit is a cone-like cluster of follicles. Its distinctive fruit looks something like a small lumpy cucumber when immature, from which its common name arises. The fruit is green at first turning pinkish-red at maturity; not hairy. Each follicle is pointed at its tip and releases individual red coated seeds suspended on slender thread at maturity.