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Its bright green leaves (with silver undersides), measure one to three feet long. The deliciously fragrant flowers are eight to ten inches in diameter. And, while the flowers are spectacular, I always look forward to the fruits. Three inches long and egg shaped, they begin to develop in summer. Come September they ripen and brilliant red seeds seem to burst out.
As autumn progresses, the leaves turn yellow and fall, creating a beautiful carpet. Too big to rake up, they afford hours of entertainment for children and even some adults. Last year I pressed some with plans to frame them. I still haven’t gotten around to it but, it was great fun. This four-season tree adds drama to any landscape.
Another magnolia that I don’t grow but have long admired in gardens in both the Northeast and Northwest is Magnolia sieboldii, or Oyama Magnolia. It’s hard to say whether I am more captivated by the sweet scented flowers (nodding and white with a dark red center) or the curious dark pink fruits which split open to reveal orange seeds in fall.
A large shrub with a great name, Seven-son Flower, Heptacodium miconioides, is covered with white fragrant flowers for several months beginning in late summer. Even more showy are the purplish-red fruits (really one-half inch long drupes) surrounded by rose colored calyces (flower parts that elongate after blooming and persist into autumn). The effect is stunning, like a second flush of flowers that are reddish-pink instead of white.
I live in a neighborhood with lots of mature trees. On my daily walks with our black lab I am always on the lookout for horticultural curiosities. Last summer, as I cut through a parking area that belongs to some condominiums, I looked up and was excited to see the female cones (seeds) developing on a group of Baldcypress, Taxodium distichum. Green and fleshy when they start out, the cones turn brown as they mature.
They remind me of tiny ornaments. With its fern-like foliage, Baldcypress looks delicate but is tough and adapts to a wide range of growing conditions. If they grow in water they develop knobby-like structures called knees.
Another botanical discovery I made last year, was a Japanese Raisin tree, also known as Hovenia dulcis, growing across the street from my daughter’s school. Although it is not a common tree, (I first encountered it at the Scott Arboretum many years ago) the odd looking edible fruits merit a mention. More of an ornamental curiosity than a culinary treat, this tree also offers handsome lustrous green foliage.
My appreciation for ornamental fruits is not limited to trees and shrubs but includes vines with showy seedheads like those of Clematis texensis ‘Gravetye Beauty,’ a selection of native clematis with vivid red flowers in summer to fall. I like the fact that you can have flowers and seedheads appearing at the same time.
These are just a few of my favorite ornamental fruits, the list goes on and I add to it every year.