The Scott Arboretum is home to a national collection of magnolias recognized through the American Public Gardens Association‘s (NAPCC) North American Plant Collections Consortium. While many of the early spring flowering magnolias have passed, the yellow magnolias are just coming into their glory.
Many of the yellow magnolias are the result of crosses made between the cucumber tree magnolia, Magnolia acuminata, and the Yulan magnolia, Magnolia denudata. The combination of these two parents has resulted in many cultivars which are later flowering, some times fragrant and range from light yellow to a golden yellow.
At the Scott Arboretum we have over 20 different kinds of yellow magnolias in our collection. One of the very first to come on the market about 20 years ago was Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ which is a beautiful pale yellow selection hybridized by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in 1977. At maturity it will develop into a pyramidal shape and reach 20-feet tall. The upward facing flowers are butter yellow and have a nice fragrance. Some fine specimens of ‘Elizabeth’ are planted between Mertz Dormitory and Old Tarble.
In more recent years ‘Butterflies’ has become a popular yellow magnolia choice. This clone is the result of a cross made by famous magnolia hybridizer, Phil Savage. The parentage is Magnolia acuminata x Magnolia denudata ‘Sawadas’s Cream’. The flowers are darker yellow than those of ‘Elizabeth’ and also have showy red stamens. A beautiful specimen is found just below Worth Health Center.
‘Yellow Lantern’ has upward facing, cup-shape, butter yellow flowers. For this cross Phil Savage hybridized Magnolia acuminata var. subcordata with Magnolia x soulangiana ‘Alexandrina’. This cultivar can be found both in the Tree Peony Garden, as well as at Old Tarble.
My favorite yellow magnolia is ‘Judy Zuk’. This was named in honor of the former director of both the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Scott Arboretum. This selection is very upright in stature. The flowers resemble tulips in their shape and are a beautiful suffusion of orange-yellow and pink toward the base. It has a fruity fragrance. Within one week ‘Judy Zuk’ will be in full flower. There is a specimen below the Clothier bell tower.
For the best viewing of yellow magnolias at the Scott Arboretum visit the area around Mertz Dormitory, Old Tarble and Worth Health Center, as well as the Tree Peony Garden.