Magnolia Seed Harvesting

Magnolia grandiflora fruit. photo credit: D. MattisFall is a busy time in the Wister Center Greenhouse.  Volunteers work on a variety of jobs including taking cuttings of tender and tropical plants; potting up cuttings; overwintering succulent plants and this year they have been busy harvesting magnolia seeds to contribute to the Magnolia Society International’s seed exchange, The Seed Counter.

Colorful array of magnolia fruit JWC-#1

Colorful array of magnolia fruit collected from the Scott Arboretum, Henry Foundation, and Morris Arboretum. photo credit: J. Coceano

We have gathered seed from the Arboretum’s collections, as well as from the Henry Foundation in Gladwyne and the Morris Arboretum in Chestnut Hill.

Harvested magnolia fruit JWC-#2

Stack of follicles bursting with magnolia seeds. photo credit: J. Coceano

Most magnolia seeds are found in large cone-like fruits called follicles.

Magnolia seed ready for a water soak JWC-#3

Magnolia seeds removed from follicles and ready for soaking. photo credit: J. Coceano

Once the follicles open up and reveal the seed which is often red and covered in a waxy coat, the seed can be harvested.

3 day soak! JWC-#4

Once removed from the follicles, seeds are soaked for three days. photo credit: J. Coceano

After the seeds are harvested, they are soaked in water for three days in order to loosen the seed coat. Our volunteers found the most effective way to remove the seed from the seed coat after soaking was to squeeze the fruit. The seed simply squirts out of the fruit.

Cleaned magnolia seed JWC-#5

Cleaned seeds are allowed to dry for a day. photo credit: J. Coceano

The seeds are then dried for a day or two. The seeds are packaged in slightly moist vermiculite and refrigerated. Do not store the seeds dry, because they rapidly lose viability under those conditions.

Marianne JWC-#6

Arboretum Assistant (volunteer) Marianne DiPaulo packages seeds in moist vermiculite. photo credit: J. Coceano

The moist seeds are stratified for 2 to 4 months at 32 to 41 degrees Fahrenheit before planting. You can also fall- plant the seeds outdoors to allow nature to provide the cool, moist conditions for stratification.

Throughout the process it is important to keep the name and the source with the seed.  Those who subscribe to the Magnolia Society’s seed exchange will make their selections based on species and source. To learn more about the Magnolia Society International and to participate in the seed exchange go to:  Also, consider attending the next annual meeting in the Bay Area and Sonoma Valley.

MSI Save-the-date Banner-#7

As a whimsical aside on the wonders of seed germination, enjoy this video of our former summer intern, Jared Barnes impersonating our favorite super hero, Superseed. Happy propagating!

Comments RSS

  1. Great pictures!

    PS Jared’s not just a seed. He’s a nut!

  2. He will definitely be a nutty professor some day. hahaha

  3. Hi
    I am an artist in Maine where I make rustic creations. I like using these magnolia seed pods which I collected when I used to live in PHila but I haven’t been able to identify nor have I found any growing up here. I have an image of them but I don’t seem to be able to include it in this email format…can you tell me where I can senbd it so you can see it? Also, Can you tell me what they are and do you know where there are some of these trees growing so I can search out the pods next fall? Do you have them at Scott Arboretum or somewhere nearby? I THINK its m. Kobus…
    Thanks so much for your thoughts!
    Vicki Fox
    Green Team Gardeners

  4. done with the harvesting and they’ve been in the fridge since november. but where do i plant them? just in the ground outside (live in vancouver, bc), or in a pot in the house first?
    help, please and thank you!

  5. The seeds should either stay in cold storage until the spring or you could plant them in pots now and put them outside for the winter. It will be important to have to pots protected from rodents however. In the spring the seedlings should start to germinate and you can then separate them out into individual pots.

    Andrew Bunting, Curator

  6. Hi,
    I’m in Vietnam and I’m interested in collecting the different cultivar of Magnolia Grandiflora. I wonder where can I get these seeds? I tried the magnolia society link you provided but it’s not working.
    Many thanks for a great post on seed collection.
    Vinh Nguyen

  7. Vinh,

    To get Magnolia grandiflora cultivars you will need cuttings.


  8. I live in Southwest Florida. I am waiting on my follicule to open. Do I need to put them in the fridge for 2-4 months? When should I plant them, Fall?

  9. They can be direct sown, but may take longer to germinate.

  10. So, in SW Florida they do not need to be refrigerated and can be planted in any season?

  11. Hey i live in springfield mo and have always wanted a magnolia tree. my husband brought a pod home but its not bursting with the red seeds. can this be planted or is there anyway to extract the seeds for germination?

  12. There needs to be red fruits for you to get set. Then the seed can be extracted and planted.

  13. Seed in SW Florida can be directly sowed.

  14. I have been given a magnolia tree last year.It has flowered for the both years but I have not seen any seed pods. Could it be I will never get seed pods because I live in zone 4?

  15. Sara, I also brought a pod home early before the seeds were showing.So I decided to do a little experimentation, as I love to do when cultivating and sure enough it worked. If there’s still enough of a stem on it cut the bottom 2-3 inches off a pint spring water bottle fill with enough water to come up the stem about an inch or so place in a good sunny window in 5-7 days the red seeds will pop like it’s still on the tree. If urs is already dried out might not work. But just grab another fresh pod off a tree and get going.

  16. I live in so Indiana and have a magnolia tree full of seeds in my yard. I want to use the red seed for beads, but have not found anything to keep them hard and bright red.
    I’ve sprayed them with polyurethane , but once I poke the hole to string, they start turning black.
    Any ideas would be appreciated.
    Thanks, paula

  17. How often do the pods fall from the tree? They are very difficult to rake, not able to use the blower to move them.

  18. My experience is that once the outer seed coat starts to dry that it will ultimately turn black. I don’t know how to preserve the red color.

    Andrew Bunting, Curator

  19. Question: How ripe do the pods/cones have to be before I can remove them from the tree, or do I have to wait for them to drop? I am competing with a squirrel & bird population who seem to always be able to get to them before I do! Can I take them off while they’re still green, and ripen them artificially in an area not accessible to the critters? Thanks in advance!

  20. Once they begin to open and show a bit of the ripe seed then you can harvest them.

    Andrew Bunting, Curator

  21. Did anyone figure out how to use the pretty red seed as jewelry and not turn black?

  22. I think it is difficult since red flesh quickly turns to black.

    Andrew Bunting, Curator

  23. I have Magnolia Grandiflora Seeds for sale. I can ship them worldwide.

    Email for more information

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