OF the splendid family of trees known by the name of Magnolia, the American continent has many species. Taken collectively they furnish perhaps the most elegant assemblage produced in the forests of the temperate zone. They are distinguished by their rich, smooth foliage, large fragrant flowers, and aromatic bark. Some of them are trees of very exalted stature, taking rank with the highest tenants of the woods. The present species is more humble than the rest in its growth, yet more interesting in some of its other properties.
The Magnolia glauca has the most extensive range, especially near the sea board, of any of the species of its family. Its most northern boundary appears to be in a sheltered swamp in Manchester, Cape Ann, about thirty miles north of Boston. It here attains to but small size, and is frequently killed to the ground by severe winters. It is common in the Middle and Southern States, and Michaux informs us, that it is one of the most abundant trees in the morasses of Florida and Lower Louisiana. According to this author however, it is not usually met with far in the interior, or to the west of the mountains. Its common names are various, and change with almost every district. In Massachusetts it has no other name than Magnolia; in the Middle States it is called Swamp sassafras and Beaver tree; while in the Southern States it is denominated Sweet bay and White bay. It is naturally a tenant of deep boggy swamps, and is somewhat irregular in its growth. It acquires more symmetry of form when cultivated in an upland soil, although its transplantation is difficult. To insure it sussessful cultivation in a dry soil, the tree should be raised from the seed.
This tree begins to flower in different parts of the United States in May, June and July. The flowers are highly fragrant, and may be perceived by their perfume at a considerable distance. A few of them shut up in a room over night communicate to the air a heavy and almost insupportable odour.
The Magnolias are found in the class Polyandria and order Polygynia; the Coadunate of Linnaeus and Magnoliae of Jussieu.
This genus has a calyx of three leaves, a corolla of six petals or more; capsules two-valved, imbricated, forming a cone; seeds berried, pendulous.
The present species has oval leaves, glaucous underneath; and obovate petals, narrowed at base.
The bark of the young twigs is of a bright, smooth green, with rings at the insertion and scars of the leaves. The leaves are scattered, petioled, regularly elliptical, entire, and glabrous. Their under side, except the midrib, is of a beautifully pale, glaucous colour, by which the tree may be distinguished at a distance. When young, this surface is covered with a silken pubescence. Flowers solitary, terminal, on a short, incrassated peduncle. Calyx of three spatulate, obtuse, concave segments. Corolla of from eight to fourteen obovate, obtuse, concave petals, contracted at their base. The stamens are very numerous and inserted in common with the petals on the sides of a conical receptacle. Filaments very short; anthers linear, mucronated, two-celled, opening inwardly. Germs oval, collected into a cone, each one divided by a furrow and tipt with a brownish, linear, recurved style. The fruit is a cone, consisting of imbricated cells, which open longitudinally for the escape of the seed. The seeds are obovate, scarlet, connected to the cone by a thread, which suspends them some time after they have fallen out.
The bark of the Magnolia glauca has a bitter taste, combined with a strong aromatic pungency, which approaches that of Sassafras and of the Acorus calamus. The aroma resides in a volatile portion, which is probably an essential oil, or a variety of camphor. It is lost from the bark in the dry state, after it has been kept some time. Water distilled from the green bark has its peculiar flavour with an empyreumatic smell. No oil appears on the surface, when the experiment is conducted in the small way. The dried bark affords a little resin, and more of a bitter extractive substance. Chalybeate tests produce a very slight darkening of the green colour of the decoction, but gelatin occasions no change. This might be anticipated from the little taste of astringency in the bark.
As a medicinal article, the Magnolia is to be considered an aromatic tonic, approaching in its character to Cascarilla, Canella, and articles of their class. Considered simply in regard to its tonic powers, it is probably of a secondary order, though from the additional properties which it possesses of a warm stimulant and diaphoretic is found useful in certain disorders. Chronic rheumatism is one of the diseases in which it exhibits most efficacy. Not only the bark, but the seeds and cones which are strongly imbued with the sensible qualities of the tree, are employed in tincture with very good success in this disease.
In intermittent and remittent fevers the Magnolia is one of the many tonics which have been resorted to for cure by the inhabitants of the marshy countries where they prevail. Sufficient testimony has been given in favour of the bark of this tree, to warrant a belief that it is fully adequate to the removal of fever and ague, when administered like the Cinchona, in liberal quantities between the paroxysms. In the more continuous forms of fever of the typhoid type, it has also received the commendations of physicians.
Several other species of Magnolia resemble the present very closely in their sensible properties, , and as far as experiments have been tried, they are similar in their medicinal effects. In order to secure the whole efficacy residing in these, trees, a tincture should be made from the bark or cones while green or very recently dried, before their more volatile parts have escaped.
Magnolia glauca, Lin. Sp. pl.
Michaux, i. 323.
Pursh, ii. 381.
Michaux, Fil. Arb. forest, iii. 77.
Magnolia lauri folio subtus alineante. Catesby, Car. i. t. 39.
Trew, sel. t. 9.
Dillenius, Hort. 207. t. 168, f. 205.
Laurus tulipifera &c.
Raius, hist. 1690.
Kalm, Travels, i. 205.
Marshall, Arbustum, 83.
Humphries, Med. Commentaries, vol. xviii.
Bart. Coll. 46.
Price, Inaugural Diss. Philad. 1812.
American Medical Botany, 1817-1821, was written by Jacob Bigelow, M. D.