Cucumber magnolia is a medium-sized tree with rather slender branches and a dense, pyramidal crown.
Leaves are alternate, simple, scattered along the stem, 5–10 inches long, 2½–6 inches wide; margin lacking teeth, wavy; upper surface yellow-green, lower surface paler, somewhat hairy.
Bark is dark brown to gray, with thin, long grooves separated by narrow, scaly ridges.
Twigs are stout, red to brown, hairy and shiny at first, brown to gray and smooth later; pores small, numerous; bud at tip about ½ inch long, densely hairy.
Flowers April–May, at the tip of the twig, solitary, slightly fragrant, cup-shaped, upright, smooth, with 6 petals; petals greenish yellow, 2–3 inches long, broadest near the tip; stamens numerous; flower stalk ¾–1½ inches long.
Fruits August–October; fruit a cucumber-shaped cone composed of a tightly packed cluster of dried fruits, red to brown, 2–3 inches long, often curved, smooth; seeds red, each hanging by a thread after fruit splits open, globe-shaped, flattened.
Similar species: Several species of magnolias are cultivated in Missouri. Our only other "native" magnolia is umbrella magnolia (M. tripetala), which has been recorded from only a single location in St. Louis County and may actually be an introduced occurrence. Tulip tree, or yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), common in landscaping, is in the same family as the magnolias.
Height: to 80 feet.
Occurs in low woods in stream valleys and on lower slopes. Often planted as a street and park tree in the eastern states and in Europe. Cucumber magnolia is a fast-growing tree that takes at least 25 years to reach flowering size and may live up to 150 years of age. It withstands cold winters better than other magnolias.
Wild populations occur in southeast Missouri and the southern Ozarks, but it is cultivated throughout the state.
A valuable landscaping tree, as this magnolia withstands fairly cold weather. The wood is used in boxes, paneling, inexpensive furniture, and cabinets. Bark tea was historically used to treat a wide range of maladies, and some people chewed the bark to break tobacco addiction.
The seeds are eaten by birds and small mammals. As a component of the mixed-hardwood association of trees on Crowley’s Ridge in southeastern Missouri, this species plays an important role in one of the most unique biological communities in the state.
There are no sharp dividing lines between trees, shrubs, and woody vines, or even between woody and nonwoody plants. “Wood” is a type of tissue made of cellulose and lignin that many plants develop as they mature — whether they are “woody” or not. Trees are woody plants over 13 feet tall with a single trunk. Shrubs are less than 13 feet tall, with multiple stems. Vines require support or else sprawl over the ground.