Interesting Local Botanical History Of The Sweet Bay Magnolia flower Submitted By Dave Marsh

For the entire 14 page pdf click here

Sweet Bay

Dave Marsh submits-


Here is a picture of a Sweet Bay Magnolia flower on a tree in my yard.

The Sweet Bay is an  interesting plant/tree .


Magnolia virginiana in Massachusetts

The sweet bay magnolia swamp in Gloucester, Massachusetts has
been a botanical shrine since its discovery in 1806 Early New England
naturalists and botanists of all types, from Henry David
Thoreau to Asa Gray, made pilgrimages to the site of this northernmost
colony of Magnolia virginiana L.* (fig. 1). The local residents of
Gloucester were so impressed with a “southern” plant growing this far
north that they changed the name of the Kettle Cove section of the
town to Magnolia in the mid-1800s. It is probably no coincidence that
this name change occurred at the same time the area was starting up
its tourist trade.
In addition to its isolation, the Gloucester Magnolia population was
remarkable for having escaped notice until 1806 in an area that was
settled in 1623. This fact has led at least one author to speculate that
the colony was not wild but escaped from a cultivated plant (Anonymous,
1889). However, the overwhelming consensus of earlier
botanists is that the population is, in fact, native. Whatever its origin,
the swamp remains today the unique and mysterious place it has been
for almost 200 years.
Very little has been written about the magnolia swamp in recent
years. The latest, and best, article about it was written by Dr George
Kennedy, and appeared in 1916 in Rhodora, the journal of the New

England Botanical Club. Dr. Kennedy summarized the history of the
stand, and cleared up the confusion about who discovered it by publishing
a letter he found, written by the Honorable Theophilus Parsons to
the Reverend Manassah Cutler in 1806. The letter captures the emotion
of the moment of discovery:
Reverend and Dear Sir:
In niding through the woods in Gloucester, that are between
Kettle Cove and Fresh Water Cove I discovered a
flower to me quite new and unexpected in our forests. This
was last Tuesday week [July 22, 1806]. A shower approaching
prevented my leaving the carriage for examination, but
on my return, on Friday last, I collected several of the
flowers, in different stages, with the branches and leaves,
and on inspection it is unquestionably the Magnolia glauca
Mr. Epes Sargent has traversed these woods for flowers and
not having discovered it, supposes it could not have been
there many years. It was unknown to the people of Gloucester
and Manchester until I showed it to them. I think you
have traversed the same woods herborizing. Did you discover
it? If not, how long has it been there? It grows in a
swamp on the western or left side of the road as you go from
Manchester to Gloucester, and before you come to a large
hill over which the road formerly passed. It is so near the
road as to be visible even to the careless eye of the traveler.
Supposing the knowledge of this flower, growing so far
north, might gratify you, I have made this hasty communication.
Your humble servant,
Theoph. Parsons
The existence of the magnolia swamp was first announced to the
general public in 1814 by Jacob Bigelow in the first edition of his
famous Plants of Boston:
The only species of this superb genus, that has been found
native in our climate. It attains the height of a dozen feet,
but is sometimes killed down to the roots by severe winters
… The bark is highly aromatic, and possesses medicinal
properties. It grows plentifully in a sheltered swamp at
Gloucester, Cape Ann, twenty five miles from Boston,
which is perhaps its most northern boundary. – June,
And on September 22, 1858, Henry David Thoreau visited the
swamp and wrote about it in his Journal:
Sept 22. A clear cold day, wind northwest
Leave Salem for the Cape on foot … We now kept the road
to Gloucester, leaving the shore a mile or more to the right,
wishing to see the magnolia swamp. This was perhaps
about a mile and a half beyond Kettle Cove. After passing
over a sort of height of land in the woods, we took a path to
the left, which within a few rods became a corduroy road in
the swamp. Within three or four rods on the west side of
this, and perhaps ten or fifteen from the highroad, was the
magnolia. It was two to seven or eight feet high, but distinguished
by its large and still fresh green leaves, which had
not begun to fall. I saw last year’s shoots which had died
down several feet, and probably this will be the fate of most
which has grown this year. The swamp was an ordinary
one, not so wet but we got about very well. The bushes of
this swamp were not generally more than six feet high.
There was another locality the other side of the road.
Clouds of doubt concerning the survival of the swamp started to
gather in 1875, in A Report on the Trees and Shrubs Growing Naturally
In the Forests of Massachusetts by George B. Emerson. He noted
“scores” of trees broken down in a single season by people who sold
the flowers in Boston and Salem. By 1889, the situation had deteriorated
to the point that J. G. Jack, the dendrologist at the Arnold
Arboretum wrote:
So eagerly have the flowers been sought for by collectors,
and especially by those who wished to make money out of
the sale of both plants and flowers, that there has been
some apprehension that the day would soon come when the
’ Magnolia could only be classed in New England floras as
one of the indigenous plants of the past.
But some good news also appeared in this article, for he goes on to
say, “The hope is now entertained, however, that the owners of the
woods where it occurs, appreciating its rarity and interest, will take
care that its existence, in a wild state, may be perpetuated.” And
indeed it was, for in that same year, 1889, Mr. Samuel E. Sawyer, the
owner of the swamp, set up a trust fund, to be administered by a board
of trustees, to manage the land. He chose to call it “Ravenswood Park”
and instructed that it be left open for and made accessible to the
general public.

This great display of generosity, however, did not stem the tide of
destruction. Dr. Kennedy in his Rhodora article quotes a letter from
C. E. Faxon, the illustrator at the Arnold Arboretum, to a Mr. Walter
Deane, which shows the condition of the swamp in the summer of

* The next nearest population of M. U1rg1722a11Q is growing 150 miles to the
south on the eastern shore of Long Island, New York (Little, 1971).



Figure 1 This drawing of Magnolia virgimana appeared on 1849 in Asa Gray’s Genera
Plantarum (p! 23), with the caption “a branch in flower of the Northern variety,from
Gloucester, Massachusetts, of the natural size”


An unusualty old, taU, multi-stemmed specimen of Magnolia virgimana growing
in the old C. S Sargent estate in Brookline, Massachusetts The tree is 10 meters tall
Photograph by P Del Tredici.


For the entire 14 page pdf click here



Magnolia soulangeana ©Kim Smith 2015Yesterday while in Boston to meet with clients at their home on Comm. Ave, I couldn’t help but take a snapshot of the glorious saucer magnolias blooming along the avenue. I wished I’d had more time because just as I was leaving, the sun began to poke out. The stunning display that you see lining the south-facing side is the genius of one woman and when I have time, will write more about her brilliant accomplishment to which we are all the beneficiaries, more than fifty years after planting!

Commonwealth Avenue Boston Magnolia soulangeana ©˚im Smith 2015

Magnolia soulangeana Commonwealth Avenue Boston

At the Gloucester HarborWalk Gardens, we planted two species of magnolia adjacent to each other. Many arboretums, such as Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, plant several species within the same plant family in close proximity to provide an opportunity to learn by comparing the differences and similarities. I wanted our community to enjoy a mini-arboretum experience by planting two of the most beautiful magnolias that grow well in our region, the saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana) and sweetbay magnolia (M. virginiana). Stop by in the coming weeks to visit our gorgeous magnolias in bloom. M. soulangeana will bloom first, followed by M. virginiana.

The Friends of the HarborWalk will be back at the HarborWalk this Sunday (tomorrow morning), beginning at 9am. We’ll meet in front of the Gloucester House. Come lend a hand–its work, but fun with this growing great group of community-spirited friends. Everyone is welcome!

Please leave a comment in the comment section or feel free to contact me if you have any questions at



HarborWalk Butterfly Gardens Sunday MugUp at 9am

Dear Friends of the HarborWalk,

I couldn’t decide if the title should read “Help with the HarborWalk” or “HarborWalk MugUp” and as you can see, opted for the MugUp, but we do need help, too. Several beds need weeding and I have a modest batch of annuals we’d like to get in the ground, just as soon as possible. The goal is to whip the butterfly gardens into shape before Fiesta. If you are interested in lending a hand, please send me an email at or leave a comment in the the comment section so we can get an idea of how many fabulous homemade Brother’s Brew doughnuts I should purchase! We are meeting at 9am Sunday in front of the Gloucester House Restaurant. We will have some spare tools and please feel free to bring your own. You don’t need to be a gardener and kids are 100 percent welcome.Thank you.

Very best wishes,

Purple Prairie Clover Dalea purpurea Gloucester HarborWalk Garden © Kim Smith 2013Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea)

While weeding yesterday morning, there were several species of small butterflies flitting about, including a number of Spring Azures. Lots of bees were spied, too. The native Magnolia virginiana and sweet thimbleweeds are in bloom and and a good bunch of Purple Prairie Clover is becoming established. Stop by and take the opportunity to learn about some of our native beauties planted at the HarborWalk.

Gloucester HarborWalk Magnolia virginiana ©Kim Smith 2012 copyGloucester HarborWalk Magnolia virginiana

Planting in Harmony with Nature

The following excerpt I wrote over fifteen years ago. The article was later adapted for my book Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! (available at my publisher’s website-click here). Yesterday’s post about how planting for wild bees and butterflies can save farmers money reminded me of the chapter “Planting in Harmony with Nature”.

Cecropia Moth ©Kim Smith 2011Male Cecropia Moth on Magnolia virginiana foliage

“The idea of a garden planted in harmony with nature is to create a loosely mixed arrangement of beauty combining native and well-behaved ornamental flowering trees and shrubs. This informal style of a woodland border or bucolic country hedge is not new and is what the French call a haie champêtre. Perhaps the country hedge evolved because it was comprised of easily propagated, or dispersed by wildlife, native species of plants and perhaps as a revolt against the neatly manicured boxed hedges of formal European gardens.

The country hedge is used, as is any hedge, to create a physical and visual boundary, but rather than forming the backdrop for ornamental plants, it is the show. By planting with a combination of native trees and shrubs, whether developing the framework of a new garden, designing a garden room, or extending an existing garden, one can create an interplay of plants drawing from a more widely varied collection of forms, textures, and colors. The framework is the living tapestry of foliage, flowers, fruit and fauna. Working and living in our garden rooms, we are enchanted by the wild creatures drawn to the sheltering boughs, blossoms, and berries. Additionally, by choosing to grow a combination of companionable fragrant North American trees and shrubs, designing a garden planted for a well-orchestrated symphony of sequential and interwoven scents is decidedly easier. We tend to be more familiar with ornamental trees and shrubs because they are readily obtained through the nursery trade. With the accessibility to resources available through the internet we can design with an increasing selection of native species.”

For the homeowner, Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!, a Boston Globe best-of, is chockablock full of design ideas for attracting pollinators to your garden, including extensive information about specific plants, plant combinations, and their cultivation. Oh Garden also makes a terrific gift book, at any time of year, but especially in the spring as we begin to see the earth reawakening and are seeking fresh design ideas and inspiration.

Read more about Oh Garden on my website, Kim Smith Designs ~ Click here.

Magnolia virginiana ©Kim Smith 2011 copyMagnolia virginiana is one of the most deliciously scented flowering trees you could grow. And the foliage is a caterpillar food plant for the fabulous Cecropia Moth, North America’s largest species of Lepidoptera. The above male Cecropia Moth found in our garden had a wingspan of six inches!



Visiting Liv in Brooklyn: Gardens at the HighLine, Battery Park, and The Bosque

Liv Hauck ©Kim Smith 2013Snapshots from a recent trip to Brooklyn and NYC to visit my darling daughter Liv.

We had a wonderful time walking everywhere and dining out. Liv always takes me to the most fun restaurants with fabulously yummy food, and they are never too pricey; the prices are comparable to our favorite Gloucester restaurants.

Native Honeysuckle Lonicera sempervirens High Line NYC ©Kim Smith 2013 copyNative Honeysuckle for the Hummingbirds at the HighLine

For our HarborWalk Gardens, I had wanted to to see what’s in bloom at the HighLine gardens during the late summer and early fall, as well as what was blooming at Piet Oudolf’s designs for the Battery Gardens of Remembrance and The Bosque.

Harlequin Glorybower Clerodendrum trichotomum  ©Kim Smith 2013At the HighLine, we paused for some length at the stunning grove of Japanese Clerodendrum (Clerodendrum trichotomum); whose one of several common names befits it’s great beauty–Harlequin Glorybower Tree. The stop-dead-in-your-tracks-deliciously-fragrant blossoms float atop a canopy of  fluttering leaves. The blooms are similar looking to jasmine flowers, but are even more sweetly scented. A magnet for butterflies and hummingbirds, the tree blooms at a time of year when much of the rest of the garden is winding down. The glorious glorybower is on my wish list for next year and, as it is just barely hardy through zone 6, I’ll find a sheltered and protected spot in which to experiment.

The Bosque Spiral Fountain ©KIm Smith 2013The Spiral Fountain at The Bosque (Spanish for a “grove of trees”), with the Statue of Liberty in the background, Battery Park Park, New York City.

Liv Hauck -1©Kim Smith 2013jpg copy

A grove of Magnolia viginiana at the HighLine

Europe Bans Bee-Harming Pesticides

Europe took a significant step as a majority of EU member states voted for a partial ban of three bee-killer pesticides. This, despite fierce behind-the-scenes lobbying from insecticide firms Syngenta and Bayer.  “A series of high-profile scientific studies has linked neonicotinoids to huge losses in the number of queens produced and big increases in “disappeared” bees – those that fail to return from foraging trips. Pesticide manufacturers and UK ministers have argued that the science is inconclusive and that a ban would harm food production, but conservationists say harm stemming from dying pollinators is even greater.” (The Guardian, UK).

Sunflower bees Sailor Stans ©Kim Smith 2012

It  is a landmark vote and was supported by petitions signed by millions of people.  Although it is only a two year ban, the hope is the ban will give the beleaguered bee a break, and allow time for reexamination of data. Under the EU measures, restricions on the following apply: for treating seeds, soil and leaves on flowering crops attractive to bees such as corn, sunflowers and rapeseed (the source of canola oil). The products may still be used on crops like winter wheat for which the danger to bees is deemed to be small. Use by home gardeners will be prohibited.

The three banned insecticides are imidacloprid, thiametoxam, and clothianidin. The neonicotinoid I see commonly listed on pesticides that are readily available to the home gardener is imidacloprid. I urge every home gardener not to use pesticides. I don’t use them, ever, in my own garden, and never in both the private and public gardens that I design and maintain. Several years ago, I reported that Alain Baraton, the head gardener at the Palace of Versailles stopped using pesticides at the palace gardens. Within the year, a natural balance began to take hold in the gardens, including the return of songbirds to the gardens which in turn eat the insects. If the no-pesticide policy is successful at Versailles, which receives millions upon millions of annual visitors, a pestide ban can certainly be implemented for our private homes and public spaces.

Korean daisy for bees©Kim Smith 2011

A dear friend of mine, Heidi Kost-Gross, is Vice Chair of the Natural Resources Commission for the Town of Wellesley (garden club readers–she is also President of the Federated Garden Club of Massachusetts). Heidi has been instrumental in pesticide reduction throughout Massachusetts. The Wellesley Natural Resources Commission has created an outstanding Pesticide Reduction Resource Guide for Citizens and Municipalities of Massachusetts, which is available for free to distribute anything found in the guide.

Magnolia virginiana Eastern Carpenter Bee Kim Smith 2011 copy

Magnolia viginiana and Eastern Carpenter Bee

Lecture Tonight at the Seaside Garden Club

Lecture Tonight at 7:30 at the Manchester Community Center: Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! ~ Notes from a Gloucester Garden.

Cabbage White Butterflies mating in Cornus florida ©Kim Smith 2009

Cabbage White Butterflies Mating in the Native Flowering Dogwood Foliage 

The lecture tonight is based on the book of the same name, which I wrote and illustrated. In it I reveal how to create the framework, a living tapestry of flora, fauna, and fragrance that establishes the soul of the garden. Using a selection of plant material that eliminates the need for pesticides and herbicides, and guided by the plants forms, hues, and horticultural demands, we discuss how to create a succession of blooms from April through November. This presentation is as much about how to visualize your garden, as it is about particular trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, and annuals. Illuminated with photographs, and citing poetry and quotations from Eastern and Western cultural influences, this presentation engages with an artist’s eye while drawing from practical experience.

For a complete lit of my 2013 – 2014 programs and workshops, visit the Programs and Lectures page of my blog.

Cecropia Moth ©Kim Smith 20009

The Cecropia Moth, or Robin Moth (Hyalophora cecropia) is the largest moth found in North America, with a wingspan of up to six inches. He is perched on the foliage of our beautiful native Magnolia virginiana (Sweetbay Magnolia), one of several of the caterpillar’s food plants. You can tell that he is a male because he has large, feathery antennae, or plumos, the better for detecting scent hormones released by the female. This photo was taken in our garden in early June.

The Manchester Community Center is located at 40 Harbor Point, Manchester.

Magnolia virginiana and How to Win a FREE Copy of Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail-2 ©Kim Smith 2010

Tuesday through Friday of this week I will be bringing you expert gardening advice excerpted from my book Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes from a Gloucester GardenMy book is currently on sale on my publisher’s website (David R. Godine) for the unheard of price of 15.00 (the list price is 35.00.) In response to Godine’s super sale, I am offering a free copy of my book.

Leave a comment or question on any of the posts by Friday at 8PM to be entered into the drawing to win. Multiple entries are allowed. One person will be chosen at random. The book will be shipped on Monday, the 17th, which should allow time for it to arrive by Christmas. Shipping is included to addresses within the United States and Canada.

Praise for Oh Garden: Smith’s writing is lithe and clean and her experiences in conjuring beauty out of her garden in Gloucester make for excellent reading.
Hawk and Whippoorwill

Excerpt from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Part One: Creating the Framework, Chapte Three ~ Planting in Harmony with Nature

Magnolia virginiana ~ Sweetbay Magnolia

Located in the heart of Ravenswood Park in Gloucester there is a stand of Magnolia virginiana growing in the Great Magnolia Swamp. It is the only population of sweetbay magnolias known to grow this far north. I took one look at the native sweetbay magnolia and breathed in the fresh lemon-honeysuckle bouquet of the blossoms, fell in love, and immediately set out to learn all I could about this graceful and captivating tree.

Magnolia virginiana ©Kim Smith 2012 copy

Returning from a trip to visit my family in northern Florida, I had tucked the bud of a the Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) into my suitcase to paint upon my return. I was dreaming of someday having a garden large enough to accommodate a Magnolia grandiflora and was elated to discover how similar our sweetbay magnolia is to the Southern magnolia. For those not familiar with the Southern magnolia, it is a grand, imposing specimen in the landscape, growing up to fifty feet in the cooler zones five and six, and one hundred feet plus in the southern states. M. grandiflora is the only native magnolia that is evergreen in its northern range, flowering initially in the late spring and sporadically throughout the summer. The creamy white flowers, enormous and bowl-shaped (ten to twelve inches across), emit a delicious, heady sweet lemon fragrance.

In contrast, the flowers of the sweetbay magnolia are smaller, ivory white, water-lily cup shaped, and sweetly scented of citrus and honeysuckle. The leaves are similar in shape to the Magnolia grandiflora, ovate and glossy viridissimus green on the topside, though they are more delicate, and lack the leathery toughness of the Southern magnolia. The lustrous rich green above and the glaucous silvery green on the underside of the foliage creates a lovely ornamental bi-color effect as the leaves are caught in the seasonal breezes.

Magnolia virginiana is an ideal tree for a small garden in its northern range growing to roughly twenty feet compared to the more commanding height of a mature Southern magnolia. M. virginiana grows from Massachusetts to Florida in coastal freshwater wetland areas as an understory tree. The tree can be single- or multi-stemmed. Sweetbay is a stunning addition to the woodland garden with an open form, allowing a variety of part-shade loving flora to grow beneath the airy canopy. The leaves are a larval food for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly. Almost immediately after planting we began to notice the swallowtails gliding from the sunny borders of the front dooryard, where an abundance of nectar-rich flowers are planted specifically to attract butterflies, around to the shady border in the rear yard where our sweetbay is located.

Garden designs are continually evolving. Part of our garden has given way to a limited version of a woodland garden, for the shady canopy created by the ever-growing ceiling of foliage of our neighboring trees has increasingly defined our landscape. We sited our Magnolia virginiana in the center of our diminutive shaded woodland garden where we can observe the tree from the kitchen window while standing at the kitchen sink. Gazing upon the tree bending and swaying gracefully in the wind, displaying its shifting bi-color leaves, provides a pleasant view when tending to daily chores.

See Tuesday’s excerpt about pear trees

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail ©Kim Smith 2010