Magnolia: Symbol of Beauty and Strength
What do you think of when Magnolia comes to mind? We think of delicate white that teeters on the edge of a pink kiss. We think of the warm blush and deep rose, and flowers shaped like petal-soft goblets. We think of Spring when the world is bursting with promise. But what does the Magnolia truly symbolize in art, in people whose faith connects them to nature, and to all of us in our daily lives?
With one quick search, you’ll find people trying to describe the meaning of Magnolia according to it’s color: Pink for innocence, red for passion, white for purity… Color association is all well and good, but the true meaning of Magnolia is so much deeper.
The fossil record shows Magnolia species are among the most ancient flowering plant families. They flourished before bees evolved as pollinators, depending on beetles for their bloom. Magnolias developed tough tepals in the place of petals to protect against their hard-winged and gnawing pollinators. It’s origin reflects it’s true nature: Deep and delicate beauty made of tough, enduring stuff. Magnolia is a symbol of beauty and strength united inextricably as one.
Magnolia: Symbol of Nobility in China
The Yulan Magnolia is native to central and eastern China. It has been cultivated in Chinese Buddhist temple gardens since 600 AD. During the early Tang Dynasty, only the Emperor himself was allowed to grow magnolias. Later, cuttings and permission to grow were offered only to his closest confidants, which was an enormous honor to their households. The Yulan Magnolia blooms in late winter/early spring, and it’s pure white blossoms are symbols of nobility. Though once the symbol was applied as a matter of exclusivity, today it applies to nobility of spirit in us all.
Magnolia: Symbol of the Ordinarily Sacred
In 1829, President Andrew Jackson, brought a magnolia sprout from his home in Tennessee to the White House. He planted it in memory of his late wife. The magnificent thing about this tree is that over the course of 200 years, it went from being sacred to Andrew Jackson to being sacred to all of us.
It was a favorite place for President Truman, Jackie Kennedy, and other White House residents over the years. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill sat “underneath that old magnolia tree” the days before the world was plunged into war. The tree earned a place on the back of the 20 dollar bill from 1928 to 1978, and a place on the White House china pattern under First Lady Laura Bush. So well known and well loved is the Jackson Magnolia that President Obama gave cuttings from the tree as gifts of State to both Israel and Cuba.
The idea of the ordinarily sacred is that the object itself is not inherently sacred, but our experience of it makes it sacred to us. The Jackson Magnolia is just a tree, grown from a cutting from another tree. It is our experience of the strength and beauty found in a tribute from a grieving husband that lead us to care for it so tenderly. Our recognition of it’s noble spirit has helped it to dig its roots deep into our history. Even now, as the Jackson Magnolia nears the end of its life cycle, cuttings from the tree are tended by the White House gardening staff to ensure that a part of that actual magnolia will live on.
In the end, the most important question is: What does magnolia mean to you?