|James Kohut, Staff Writer|
Of the many warm-climate trees we Northerners eye with envy, magnolias almost define the limits of our dreams. We crave these large-flowered beauties dominating our landscapes with their purple-white fragrant flowers in early spring. But our savvy southern neighbors know that there are many different species and selections of magnolias, with white, purple and yellow flowers, and ranging in size from garden-scale shrubs to tall landscape trees.
What even our savvy southern neighbors may not realize is that some magnolias are much hardier than others. The cherished saucer magnolias and sweetbay magnolias may not even be hardy for some of them, while the white-flowered star magnolias and the aptly-named yellow-flowering cucumber tree magnolias are surprisingly hardy. Some are even worthy of trying in sheltered locations in the North.
One of these is Elizabeth magnolia, a hybrid of the very hardy cucumber-tree magnolia. This small ornamental tree features giant soft yellow cup-shaped flowers that appear shortly after the leaves in mid spring. The flowers are bold and showy and call out for attention, and are followed by odd cucumber-shaped fruit in late summer. The trees also have rather large leaves, making for a coarse texture that sets itself off well against more average trees.
This delightful magnolia is safely hardy to zone 4, and a number of gardeners are reporting success growing it in urban zone 3 locations. Magnolias like loose, slightly acidic soil with excellent drainage, and decent shelter from winter winds. Elizabeth will grow to become a relatively large tree, so it is best used as a solitary accent in the front yard or as an anchor tree in a large garden design.