Magnolia Glauca. Small Magnolia.

Botanical name: 

Table 07. Magnolia glauca. White-bay. Swamp-Sassafras. Beaver-tree. Castor-wood. Beaver-wood. Sweet-flowering Bay Sweet-Magnolia. Sweet-bay. Elk-bark. Indian-bark. White Laurel. Gach-hach-gik of the Delaware Indians.

Dutch. Die eisengraue Magnolie; Die meergriine Magnohe; Der Biberbaum.
French. Le Magnolia glauque; Le Magnoher bleu; Le Magnoher des marais; L'arbre de Castor.
Japan. Kobus, Kobusi, Kobuks, Konsusi, Mitsmata, side kobasi, sini. Variet. Mockkwuren; Fo no ki
German. Graue Magnolia. (Willd.)

Ein 15 bis 20 Fuss hoher Strauch, in Virginien, Carolina, und andern Nördlichen theilen von America; wächst auf feuchtem Boden, und an den Bächen; der geruch der Blumen ist angenehm, aber so stark, das er sich auf ein viertel einer deutschen Meile erstrecken, und in der nähe Kopfweh erregen soil; die Amerikaner legen den samen in rum, um ein magenstärkendes getränk davon zu erhalten; die Rinde ist eine vorzügliche nahrung für die Biber, auch können selbige am leightensten damit gefangen werden.

Magnolia glauca,
L. Sp. Pl. 755.
Mill. Dict. n. 1.
Du Roi Harbk. 1. p. 399.
Wangenh. Amer. 60. t. 19. f. 46.
Willd. Arb. 189.

α latifolia.
Hort. Kew. 2. p. 251. ed. 2. vol. 3. p. 329.
Hort. Cliff. 222.
Gron. Virg. 61.
Kalm. it. 2. p. 324.
Dill. elth. 207. t. 168. f. 205.
Catesby, Car. 1. p. 39. t. 39.
Trew. ehr. t. 9.
Pluk. aim. 379. t. 68. f. 4.
Raj. Hist. 1690, et 1798. n. 4.

β longifolia,
Ait. 1. c.
Lin. Pfl. Syst. 2. p. 77.
Shoepf. Mat. Med. Am. p. 91.
Muhl. Cat. Pl. Am. Sep. p. 53.
Willd. Sp. Pl. p. 1256.
Mich. Fl. Boreali-Am. vol. 1. p. 327.
Pursh, Fl. Am. Sep. vol. 2. p. 381.
Mich. fil. Hist, des Arbres Forest, vol 3. p. 77.
Barton's Collections, &c. part 1. p. 13, 47. part 2. p. 20.
Barton's Prodr. Fl. Ph. p. 59.
Nuttall, Gen. Am. Plants.

The Magnolia glauca, [This species appears to have been the first of its genus introduced into the gardens of England, having been cultivated by Bishop Compton, at Fulham, in 1688.] though in general only a small tree, sometimes attains the height of forty feet; and a diameter of twelve or fourteen inches. It is in the southern states, particularly the Carolinas, that it reaches this, its greatest elevation. Its most common height is from twenty to thirty feet, and in the vicinage of Philadelphia, on the Jersey side of the Delaware, it is a much lower tree, frequently flowering luxuriantly, when it has reached a height of five or six feet. Michaux f. says that this is also the case in the environs of New- York. I have no where seen it producing mature flowers at so humble a stature, as it does near Christiana, or as it is vulgarly called, Christine, on the road from Philadelphia to Baltimore; where I have observed clusters of this Magnolia in full flower, the largest individual among which, did not exceed four feet in height, and all of them much more deserving the appellation of bushes or shrubs than trees. The variation in the height of this species, is much influenced by local exposure and peculiarity of soil. I have seen trees of the greatest discrepancy in stature, but precisely alike in respect to the size of the leaves, flowers, and fruit, occupying almost the same ground. The difference in these instances, appeared merely owing to accidental situation; the small ones occupying the shadv thickets, and the taller trees, the skirts of woods.

The trunk is covered with a smooth grayish bark; is tortuous, and much divided into divaricating branches. The wood is whitish, and very light. It is not, so far as I know, employed for any useful purpose. It is known sometimes by the name of castor-wood, or beaver-tree, which indicates that the beaver makes use of it in some way. In all probability it is employed by those sagacious animals, for posts, in the construction of their dykes, on account of its levity, which enables them to carry it to convenient places; and from its softness, they can fell it without difficulty. The bark serves them for food during the winter, in times of scarcity, or the prevalence of severe weather or high floods, either of which confines them to their habitations.

The leaves of this tree are five or six inches long, and alternately disposed on the branches. They are of a long oval form, entire, thick, opake, of a deep yellowish-green colour on their upper surface, and glaucous or bluish-white underneath. This agreeable green, relieved by the frequent presentation of the blue under side, exhibits a pleasing contrast in the leaves. Though at all times the foliage of this tree is comely, it appears to much more advantage during the inflorescence, from the harmony of colouring produced by the handsome cream-coloured flowers. The leaves fall in the Autumn of every year, and are reproduced in the Spring, at which season they are of a much lighter tone of colour than when further advanced.

The flowers are terminal, and solitary; and about the size and shape of half a goose's egg. They are composed of many oval, con cave cream-coloured petals; and exhale a subtle, bland, and to most persons, delicious odour. This renders them so universally agreeable, that at the period of their maturity, the women and children in the neighbourhood of Philadelphia and New- York, resort in great numbers to the swamps where they grow, and cull them to vend in the markets. The flowering twigs are put up in bunches, and sold for a cent or two cents each, and are eagerly purchased to decorate the mantles and chimney-places, in the houses of all ranks of people. The market-places are perfumed at this season, with the spicy scent for which these flowers are so remarkable. They are familiarly known in our market, by the name of Magnolia, and rarely by the appellation of Small-Magnolia. The emanation from the flowers is extremely penetrating. To some persons it is rather unpleasant, and to a few, insupportable; producing uneasiness in the chest, and a tendency to fainting. The late Dr. Barton imputed to this odour, the power of increasing the pain of inflammatory gout, and occasioning an exacerbation of a diurnal fever. I cannot help suspecting this opinion to have been much influenced by the imagination, though I by no means deny these sweet flowers, a considerable degree of activity; and perhaps in a close room they might produce slight headache in delicate persons, or even occasion fainting where idiosincrasy exists in the constitution. I really believe, however, that these flowers are frequently accused of effects which they have had no share in producing: and the almost universal estimation in which they are held, sufficiently proves their general innocence.

The flowers are succeeded by little fleshy squamous cones, about an inch in length, and three-quarters of an inch in diameter. They are of a green colour, with occasionally a tinge of red, as represented in the plate. Each cone is composed of numerous cells, of about twelve or eighteen lines in length. They contain the seeds, which are of a bright scarlet colour. They force their way, when matured, by rupturing, longitudinally, the sides of their chambers, and thus escape. Previously to falling, they are suspended for some days, by a delicate white filamentous thread, which allows them to hang just below the base of the cone; and by their beautiful contrast with the green scally strobile, produce a very pleasing effect. The seeds are about the size of a grain of Guinea-corn, irregularly roundish, and somewhat narrowed above.

There are two varieties of this tree. One called the ?3roadleaved Magnolia, with deciduous oval-oblong, and somewhat obtuse leaves; the other denominated the long-leaved Magnolia, having persistent, eliptical, long and narrow leaves, acute at the apex and base. This last is a taller tree than the first variety, and the branches are more upright. Pursh says it is this variety which is known by the names of Swamp- Sassafras, Sweet-Bay, Swamp-Laurel, and Beaver-wood. It is the broad-leaved variety which is indigenous in our vicinity. The other is more common to the south. I have heard the Magnolias in the vicinity of this city, discriminated by the two appellations of Upland Magnolia, and Lowland Magnolia; and it is currently believed, that the variety designated by the latter epithet, will not bear transplanting into our gardens. I suspect the fancied difference is nothing more than one existing perhaps in the constitution (if I may be allowed such an expression) of the individual trees, arising from accidental situation in a dry or moist soil. Those found thriving in a comparatively dry spot, will in all probability stand the best chance of living after transplantation. The fact is, however, that this species of Magnolia, is shy of cultivation; and the frequent failure of attempts to cultivate it, while at the same time some individuals are occasionally found to thrive, induces people to seek for the cause, in a difference of species or in a variety.

The northernmost range of the Small Magnolia, is Cape Anne, in the State of Massachusetts, in latitude 45° 50'. [Michaux, Arbres Forest.] It is pretty frequent in the lower part of New-Jersey, but more abundant further south. According to Michaux, f. this tree is the most common inhabitant of all the lower maritime parts of the middle states as well as of Florida and the lower portion of Louisiana. It is never met with at any considerable distance in the interior; and it is not seen in the states of New-York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, more than thirty or forty miles beyond the cities of New-York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. [Idem.] In the Carolinas and Georgia, its range is restricted to the geographical limits of the pines, as indicated by Michaux, who remarks, that he never remembers to have seen it in the upper parts of these states, nor in those situated to the east of the mountains. In the lower portions of New-Jersey, and Pennsylvania, and more to the south, the Magnolia glauca is never seen except near marshes, bogs, and sphagnous swamps, which are for the greater portion of the year so full of water as to be impassable. Its common companions in these places are, Vaccinium frondosum and Vaccinium amcenum, or swamp whortleberry bushes; different species of Andromeda or bilberry, as A. caliculata, A. Mariana and A. paniculata; Cupressus thyoides, or white cedar, and Vaccinium occycoccos, or American cranberry. The swamps containing this last plant, will seldom be found destitute of the small Magnolia. In the great morasses bordering the rivers of the Carolinas and Georgia, this tree is seldom met with; while on the other hand, in those extensive marshes which reach in all directions across the pine forests, it constitutes, with the Laurus Caroliniensis, or redbay, and the Gordonia laysianthus, or loblolly-bay, the body of trees which fills these swamps. The miry black soil of these places, which is superincumbent to a stratum of sand, is peculiarly suited to the growth of this tree.

In the cities and neighbourhood of Philadelphia and New- York, the Magnolia glauca is best known, as has already been hinted, by the names of Magnolia and Small Magnolia. It was formerly recognized by the appellations of swamp-sassafras, and beaver-wood. or beaver-tree 5 the latter of which was introduced by the Swedish emigrants who first settled in this country. These names are now disused, and very properly. That of swamp-sassafras is not only incorrect and inappropriate, but leads to confusion. As it is the smallest tree of its genus, it seems to me, the best and most discriminating appellation, hy which we can designate it, is Small Magnolia. It may not be amiss to notice, that the name of elk-bark arises from the circumstance of its being eaten by the Cervus Wapiti (of Barton) or American elk. The name of Indian bark, which is very rarely applied to this tree, arises in all probability from the use the Indians make of it in medicine.

Medical Properties.

The Magnolia glauca belongs to the class of tonic bitters, and is far from being an unimportant article of this useful set of medicines. The bark of the roots of this tree have an aromatic odour and a bitter taste; and a decoction is said to have been very useful in rheumatic affections. [Barton's Collections.][Shoepf's Mat. Med.] It is sometimes infused in brandy, by the peasantry, and they use the tincture in rheumatic affections. It is considered by them as a light sudorific. The inhabitants of the lower part of Jersey, are accustomed also to infuse the cones and the fruit, in rum and whiskey. The liquor of this infusion imbibes a very bitter taste, and is considered as a good prophylactic against autumnal fevers. The bark of the tree and branches, forms, by pulverization, an agreeable aromatic tonic-bitter medicine, which has been used in intermittents. It is celebrated among the western Indians, as a remedy for rheumatism and fevers, and they resort to the river Kanhaway, where this Magnolia grows in great abundance, for the purpose of collecting vast quantities of the bark for these uses. [Barton's Collections.] A decoction proves gently cathartic, and terminates its operation by acting as a sudorific. A cold infusion and tincture of the bark, are much used in intermittents. Dr. Barton mentions, that in a case of inflammatory rheumatism it seemed to produce considerable relief, by its sudorific effect, after bloodletting. Shoepf says a decoction of the bark is useful in "diarrhoea, cough, phthisis, fever, hjemorrhois, autumnal fevers, and internal pains; that a decoction of the young branches is effectually employed in catarrh and coryza; the seeds in cough and other affections of the breast; and finally, an oint ment made of the carbonized wood and hog's-lard, is good for ulcers." [Mat. Med. Am. p. 91.] It will readily be perceived, from this detail of the virtues of our plant, that Shoepf was in some measure favourably biassed by the prevalent high estimation in which this species of Magnolia was held; and he doubtless imputes more medical power to it, than the truth will justify. Yet if his encomiastic account shews on one hand, that he is too lavish of his commendation of its medical virtues, it proves on the other, that as an article of domestic medicine, it is very variously and very generally employed. This I have also other reasons to believe to be the case. Its almost universal use among the country people who dwell where it grows, as a remedy for autumnal fevers, and other affections, as already mentioned, evinces the probability that it is frequently found efficacious. Therefore it is, that I have assigned it a place in this work, and invite the attention of practitioners to the subject. The dose is about one drachm of the powdered root; and this quantity may be repeated three or four times in a day. The decoction or infusion, may be taken to any extent that the stomach will bear. The extracts may prove useful in medicine. That produced from the tincture of the bark of the twigs, is soft, dark-coloured, bitter, and gum-resinous. The tincture of the roots yields a soft, dark-coloured, resinous extract, of a bitter, pungent, and resinous taste. A decoction of the bark of the trunk, affords a hard, black, friable, gummy, resinous extract.

Oeconomical Use.

Like most vegetables endued with aromatic bitter properties, the Small Magnolia is employed in the preparation of morning bitters. The practice of taking what is called a morning dram, is too common among the laboring peasantry of our states; and among the different articles they use for this purpose, no one is more likely to act healthfully than this. The cones and seeds are sometimes used; but the seeds alone form the most elegant and pleasant bitter. They should be infused in good old spirit, or old rye-whiskey, and digested in the sun for a day or two. It is said that the root is used as a bait to catch the beaver, that animal being fond of it as food. The wood burns indifferently, and of course is never felled for this purpose. The tree may be propagated by seeds; and it is said, I know not with what foundation, that those sent from this country to Europe, will not vegetate without being passed through the alimentary canal of the turkey.

Table VII.

Fig. 1. Represents a flowering twig of the Magnolia glauca, of its natural size.
2. The cone, shewing two seeds which have escaped from their cells, and are suspended in the common way, previously to dropping.

Vegetable Materia Medica of the U.S. or Medical Botany, 1817 (Vol. I), 1818 (Vol. II), was written by William P. C. Barton, M. D.