How a Pagan Goes to Church: Steel Yourself for Magnolias’ Surprise

Pagan Church

With the decor of the Cathedral of Nature turning autumnal, I’m looking back at the spring and summer months and all their beauty but especially thoughts of magnolias.

A Childhood of Tree-Climbing

I grew up in a remote area of South Georgia with huge Southern Magnolia trees in my yard and in my childhood friend’s yard. The one in my own yard was too young to climb but at my friend’s house, we scurried up the magnolia in her back yard on every visit, climbing higher and bolder every time. I wonder now just how big and sturdy that magnolia was, but as a seven-year-old, I thought it was HUGE. It’s a celebrated memory of my childhood in Georgia.

A memory I’ve made as an adult includes that young magnolia in my mom’s front yard. In spring, I fall in love with the white blossoms the size of my doubled hands. In fall, I spring into love with the seed pods with red Chiclet seeds.

An Adulthood of Blossom-Picking

Although there are not magnolia trees on my own property and throughout my neighborhood in Florida, I have a ritual whenever I visit my mom in the spring. As I’m leaving to come back home, I make one last trip to the big magnolia in her yard and pick a giant white blossom. I put it in my car for the long drive home and once there, it goes into a vase where it discolors and droops over the next few days. But the trip home? Oh, the car smells of magnolia-in-sunshine for the next week. It’s so strong on the way home that it’s nearly overpowering.

But here’s why I always double-check those blossoms before hopping in a closed-up car with them.

Steel Magnolia

Important Things to Know about Magnolias

A few years back, my big brother–who graduated from forestry school years ago and frequently regales me with the Latin names of every flower, plant, and tree known to man–told me I should know two things about Southern magnolias.

First, he told me an interesting Nature fact.  After a particularly rough drought where it seemed the magnolias in my area were dying, he explained that magnolias typically shed their leaves in two-year cycles, so you will not a see a living magnolia that is bare of leaves.  None of the magnolias ever completely lost their leaves, in spite of the lack of water that made them look wilted and thin.

The other surprising fact was that I needed to be more careful of sticking my nose in a magnolia blossom and especially of tossing one in the car for a 2-hour ride home with my little girls.  You see, the blossom, when it’s closed loosely, can have temperatures of 10 degrees–he may have said fifteen?–warmer than the weather outside the blossom.  That extra heat is very appealing to wasps, which will crawl inside the white dome.  The last thing I wanted, he said, was to either get popped on my nose when burying my face in the fragrant globe or to unleash a wasp in a closed-in car going 75 mph down the interstate!