Stephen G. Saupe - Biology Department, College of St. Benedict/St. John's University, Collegeville, MN 56321; (320) 363-2782;

Gink and Go Meet the Magnoliaceae

Setting: Our two friends are sitting and waiting for their favorite class, Plant Taxonomy, to begin. At their desk they find a twig and fruit of Magnolia. They begin to chat:

Gink:   What families are we going to study today?
Go:   Magnoliaceae, Ranunculaceae and Papaveraceae.
Gink:   Oh no, not those families. Saupe really likes these families because they seem to share a variety of primitive characteristics.
Go:   Yeah, he especially likes the Magnoliaceae because his hero, Cronquist, considered this one of the most primitive families of vascular plants.
Gink:   What features make it so primitive?
Go:   Well for starters, they have large, showy, solitary flowers, with numerous spirally arranged parts on an enlarged receptacle. The stamens are more or less laminar.
Gink:   Do you mean flat?
Go:   That's right, laminar is a flattened stamen.
Gink:   What kind of fruit do they have?
Go:   An aggregate of follicles or berries. Check out the Magnolia fruit he brought to class (see fruit or diagram in your text), which is an aggregate of follicles. Each follicle was derived from a separate carpel clustered together on one receptacle. Check below the fruit to see scars from the dehiscence of the perianth and androecium.
Gink:   Cool. But what's the deal with the seeds?
Go:   That's the neatest part - when the follicles mature they dehisce along one suture to release the seeds. Initially, they are still attached to the follicle by the funiculus. Aren't the seeds attractive ?  Many species in this family have red or orange seed coats.
Gink:   These plants smell pretty good, too. Check it out (smell the twig sample by scraping the bark lightly).
Go:   Yeah, that's because members of this family are rich in essential oils that are produced in one-celled glands in the foliage
Gink:   What about the vegetative parts?
Go:   The leaves have neat stipules that encircle the buds and leave a scar around the node. Check it out on this twig (examine the twig sample). The leaves are often evergreen and coriaceous. 
Gink:   If you mean, thick and leathery just say it instead of stupid words like, "coriaceous." But, can I find any Magnolias around here?
Go:   Not many. They have an interesting disjunct distribution - they are native to Asia and eastern North America. On campus there are a few cultivated small plants of Magnolia. My favorite is in the courtyard in the quad where it flowers in late spring and has huge white flowers. It's really neat. And, you can usually see lots of beetles on the flowers.
Gink:   What are the beetles doing? Drinking nectar?
Go:   Nope. Magnoliaceae flowers don't produce nectar. The beetles are having supper - eating pollen.  Let's write the floral formula of this family?
Gink:   I hate those things.
Go:   Come on, it's easy.  Just remember that they have actinomorphic flowers, a perianth of 6 to many tepals, numerous stamens, numerous carpels with a superior ovary and an aggregate of follicles, samaras, or berries for a fruit. I'll bet you can write it yourself.
Gink:   Oh all right. (Write the floral formula in your notes now)

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Last updated: October 16, 2005   
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