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See Winter’s Biggest Blooms Opening Now in Golden Gate Park

Written by Maryann Jones ThompsonPublished Jan. 25, 2023 • 4:40pm
The Sargent's magnolia blooms at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. | Saxon Holt/SFBG

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They’re back: Two hundred of the world’s most beautiful flowering trees are beginning to blossom in Golden Gate Park. 

Yes, it is time for “Magnificent Magnolias” at the San Francisco Botanical Garden (SFBG). Massive pink, white and magenta flowers are opening now on the garden’s trees, one of the country’s most significant collections.

The spectacular Magnolia sargentiana or Sargent’s magnolia blooms at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. | Saxon Holt/SFBG

“We are in the early days of what is looking to be a wonderful season,” says Brendan Lange, director of marketing and communications for the Gardens of Golden Gate Park. 

Native to the Himalayas and the cloud forests of the Americas, magnolias do well in the city’s foggy, cool air. The SFBG made horticulture history in 1940 by becoming the first garden to bloom a cup-and-saucer magnolia in the U.S.

Magnolias lose their leaves in winter and then burst with flowers before new leaves appear in spring. Luckily, this month’s storms did not cause them damage.

The Great Meadow at the SF Botanical Garden is a great place to hang out on a sunny afternoon. | Maryann Jones Thompson/The Standard

“Gratefully, the storms’ timing was before the magnolias were in bloom,” says Lange. “The magnolia trees themselves weathered the storms quite well, and there were no other major tree failures that damaged any of the magnolia trees, so thus far things are looking good!”

The first big wave of blooms is on tap for this weekend and “peak bloom” typically arrives in early- to mid-February.

A check of the SFBG Instagram account gives the current status of the trees. On Tuesday, there were “more and more flowers” near the Great Meadow and in the camellia and rhododendron gardens but reported “more buds than flowers” and “much more to come!” 

The fuzzy buds appear on a pre-bloom magnolia. | Maryann Jones Thompson/The Standard

It’s good to make plans to see the trees now. Admission to the SFBG and its “Magnificent Magnolias” is available via walk-ins and advanced reservation, but SF residents get in free and everyone is free between 7:30 and 9 a.m. Admission for non-SF adults is $10. Plan to bring a picnic and sprawl out in the Giant Meadow after your stroll.

A handy map guides visitors through the many paths to find a wide variety of magnolias. Check out the photos below for a preview of some of the more interesting magnolias on view this month.

Meet the Magnolias of SF Botanical Garden 

It was in 1820 that Étienne Soulange-Bodin pollinated Magnolia denudata with Magnolia liliiflora to produce the very popular Magnolia x soulangeana. Since then many hybrids have been raised resulting in many different cultivars including Rustica Rubra, a Dutch clone raised at the end of the 19th century in Boskoop. The reddish-purple flowers, pink-white within, feature the classic goblet shape. | Katie Monroe/SFBG

The tallest tree in the collection standing 80-feet-tall, the Strybing White (Magnolia campbellii) grew from a seed sent by a Darjeeling nursery to Golden Gate Park. It sports white blooms that mostly sit upright aside from their outermost petals. | Maryann Jones Thompson/The Standard
Present at the signing of the United Nations Charter, which took place at Cathedral Grove in Muir Woods, Lord Cranborne of Salisbury presented this Sargent’s magnolia plant to the SF Botanical Garden in 1946. It flowered for the first time in 1953 and sparsely each year until 1960 when it had more than a hundred flowers. | Saxon Holt/SFBG

The Magnolia denudata is the first magnolia from the East introduced to the western world when it arrived in England in 1780. It is one of the parents of many cultivars. Called the “yulan” or “jade orchid” by the Chinese, and featuring exquisite, pure white blossoms, M. denudata has the longest-known history of cultivation among magnolias, dating back to the Tang Dynasty in 618 A.D. Its beauty was celebrated on ancient Chinese embroideries, scrolls and porcelains in scenes of the countryside. | Saxon Holt/SFBG

The endangered Magnolia sharpii is only known to be found in five locations in the cloud forests of the Chiapas region in Mexico. There, it is threatened with habitat destruction due to human activities such as timber harvesting and agriculture. | James Gaither/SFBG

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Maryann Jones Thompson can be reached at [email protected]


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