By Jayne Violette | Springtime in the south is a beautiful time of the year. In addition to warmer temperatures, you’ll see a variety of plants and flowers that add to our landscape. The sweet, indolent scent of the southern magnolia blossom, distinct and romantic, permeates Beaufort streets like memories of our past…drifting, poignant, and dreamlike.
Discovered by French botanist Charles Plumier in 1703, there are several species of magnolia, but it is the large, white, waxy blossoms against the shiny oblong leaves of the Magnolia Grandiflora that appear in profusion June through August in Beaufort that are symbolic of the quintessential south.
Beaufort native and celebrated botanist, Stephen Elliott, born in 1771, wrote in his classic A Sketch of the Botany of South Carolina and Georgia (1821) that “this magnificent tree is almost too well known to need description” and that the blooms are so large that “letters can easily be written on the petals of the blossoms with the point of any sharp instrument”.
Magnolia are thought to be one of the oldest plants on earth and magnolia trees can grow upwards of 60 feet high and 50 feet wide. Also known down south as a bull bay, there are big magnolia trees, small ones, ones with pink blooms, and even ones that are cold hardy enough to survive up north.
In the language of flowers, the magnolia blossom represents nobility, perseverance, and dignity; characteristics well-matched to the rich history of Beaufort and its people.
A twilight stroll around the historic blocks of The Old Point neighborhood, when the centuries-old magnolia trees are at their sun-warmed best, reminds us of what author Beverly Nichols writes: “To be overcome by the fragrance of flowers is a delectable form of defeat”.
When a Magnolia tree’s sweet fragrance fills the air, you know you’re in the South. And, it’s just another reason to fall in love with beautiful Beaufort, South Carolina.