This article refers to the botanical term. For other uses, see Magnolia (disambiguation).
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A white magnolia
The genus is named after Pierre Magnol, a botanist from Montpellier in France. The first species belonging to this genus to be identified was M. virginiana (the Sweet Bay), found by missionaries sent to North America in the 1680s. This was followed by M. grandiflora early in the 18th century, another North American plant.
Magnolia is an ancient genus. Having evolved before winged insects were common, the flowers developed to encourage pollination by beetles. As a result, the Carpels of Magnolia flowers are tough to avoid damage. Fossilised specimens of M. acuminata have been found dating to 20 million years ago. Another primitive aspect of Magnolias are their lack of distinct sepals or petals. The term "tepal" has been coined to refer to the intermediate element that the Magnolia has instead.
In general, Magnolia is a genus which has attracted a lot of horticultural interest. Hybridisation has been immensely successful in combining the best aspects of different species to give plants which flower at an earlier age than the species themselves, as well as having more impressive flowers.