Cucumbertree – Magnolia acuminata

Cucumbertree – Magnolia acuminata
Growing to 30 meters, cucumbertree is the most widespread of the eight species native to the U.S. and the only magnolia native to Canada.

Cucumbertree, also called cucumber magnolia, yellow cucumbertree, yellow-flower magnolia, or mountain magnolia, is the most widespread and hardiest of the eight native magnolia species in the United States, and the only magnolia native to Canada. The soft, durable, straight-grained wood is similar to yellow-poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera). They are often marketed together and used for pallets, crates, furniture, plywood, and special products.

Cucumbertree is a valuable forest and shade tree, highly desirable for ornamental planting because of the showy flowers, fruits, and attractive foliage and bark. This species has been naturalized north of its native range; it grows best in slightly acid, well-drained soil. (1)

Cucumbertree foliage
Leaves are huge, 6-10 inches long

Cucumbertree is widely distributed but never abundant. It grows on cool moist sites mostly in the mountains from western New York and southern Ontario southwest to Ohio, southern Indiana and Illinois, southern Missouri south to southeastern Oklahoma and Louisiana; east to northwest Florida and central Georgia; and north in the mountains to Pennsylvania.

Cucumbertree flowers from early April through early July depending on location. Self-pollination usually does not occur because the flowers do not produce ripe pollen until the female stigma is no longer receptive. Magnolia flowers are perfect and are borne singly at the ends of the branches. They appear after the leaves start developing. The flowers close at night and do not last longer than 2 to 4 days.

Pollination is largely by insects. The fruit, a green cucumber-shaped cone, ripens in late August or September. The thickened, rounded, red knobby follicles open exposing reddish-orange seeds that hang on slender threads before falling to the ground. The outer seedcoat is fleshy, oily, and soft; the inner seedcoat is hard, thin, and membranous enclosing a large and fleshy endosperm.

Weather adversely influences the sensitive flower receptivity and available pollen. Also, cucumbertrees have a shorter period of receptivity and pollen shedding than other native magnolias.

Cucumbertree Foliage
Cucumbertree Foliage

Cucumbertree has no important disease agents; however, it is very sensitive to ground fires and frost. Nectria galligena is common on cucumbertree stands on unsuitable sites, particularly in the southern Appalachian region. Nectria cankers cause defects but seldom kill the tree.

Ambrosia beetles such as Platypus compositus, a common wood borer, seriously degrade recently felled trees during warm months. In the South, it is common to saw logs within 2 to 3 weeks after felling. The magnolia scale (Neolecanium cornuparuum), one of the largest scale insects in the United States, can seriously injure magnolia species. Other sap-sucking insects that attack cucumbertree are the European fruit lecanium (Parthenolecanium corni); the oleander pit scale (Asterolecanium pustulans); and the San Jose scale (Quadraspidiotus perniciosus). Common insect defoliators of cucumbertree are 0dontopus calceatus, Phyllocnistis magnoliella, and Phyllophaga forsteri. Sapsucker damage is common on cucumbertree. Bird peck causes stain streaks in the wood several feet above and below each peck, resulting in lumber degrade.

In general, wildlife use of cucumbertree for food is low; however, the seeds are eaten by several species of birds and small mammals. Grackles and blackbirds also eat the young fruit of the cucumber tree. Twigs, leaves, and buds are browsed by deer; although cucumbertree is classed as nonpalatable by some investigators, others have considered it an important deer plant food in West Virginia during one or more seasons.

Cucumbertree is a valuable forest and shade tree, highly desirable for ornamental planting because of the showy flowers, fruits, and attractive foliage and bark (18). This species has been planted successfully well north of its native range; it grows well in slightly acid, well-drained soil.

Cucumbertree is used for wood products and resembles yellow-poplar except that the wood is heavier, harder, and stronger. This species is commonly used for lumber in the Appalachian Mountains, especially in West Virginia and adjoining States. The wood is usually sold as yellow-poplar; it has not been sold as cucumbertree lumber since 1928. The wood is used in furniture, fixtures, Venetian blinds, siding, interior trim, sashes, doors, boxes, and crates.

Cucumbertree can reach a height of about 30 m (100 ft) and a d.b.h. of 91 to 122 cm (36 to 48 in). Typically, this tree is 18 to 24 m (60 to 80 ft) tall and 60 cm (24 in) in d.b.h. Cucumbertree grows fast in moist, deep soils of coves and lower slopes. This species matures in 100 years and seldom lives more than 150 years (8). Generally, the species is rapid growing and short lived. There are no available published data on the growth rate and yield of individual trees. The root system for cucumbertree is deep and widespread, and trees rarely develop a taproot. Cucumbertree is susceptible to windthrow, especially on steep slopes. (1)

Cucumbertree Foliage

1. USDA United States Forest Service
2. NATIONAL AUDUBON SOCIETY, National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees
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Magnoliaceae – Magnolia Family
The earliest flowering plants date back about 130 million years. According to Cronquist Evolution and Classification of Flowering Plants, the most primitive of all living angiosperms belong to the subclass Magnoliidae.
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