CSU, Chico News

Saucer Magnolias to Be Featured on March 10 Arboretum Tour

Date: 03-06-2009

Joe Wills
Public Affairs

Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park and California State University, Chico will show off their collection of Magnolia family trees on a free tour March 10. The tour begins at the gazebo in front of Bidwell Mansion Tuesday, March 10, at 10 am. Leaders of the tour will be Wes Dempsey, emeritus professor of botany, and retired forester and park ranger Gerry Ingco. The walk will last until 11:30 am and cover about 30 different species of trees located on the mansion grounds and on the CSU, Chico campus.

In bloom now is a rare Chinese white saucer magnolia that may have been planted by the Bidwells soon after the mansion was built in 1870. In addition to its large, showy flowers, this tree has been a commonly pictured motif on fine Chinese porcelainware and a prized garden plant all over the world since then. Its botanic name is Magnolia denudata.

According to Dempsey, the denudata was planted in a Paris botanic garden in 1820, where Maurice Bodin crossed it with another species, M. liliflora. The resulting hybrid was a spectacular pink-flowered tree that we see blooming all over Chico today. A particularly gorgeous specimen is located in front of Selvester’s Cafe next to Kendall Hall on campus and will be shown on the tour.

In front of the mansion are two other magnolia species that were planted by Bidwell, according to Dempsey. The magnificent Southern Magnolia directly in front of the mansion was actually planted by Bidwell in 1863, according to his diary. Evidently he wanted to shade his porch and front yard from Chico’s hot summers. Just beyond it is a Tulip Tree, or Yellow Poplar as it is known in its home region, the southeastern United States.

The tour will also show off many other of the over 200 species around the campus and the mansion. Notable will be the Chilean Monkey Puzzle tree, the Bunya Bunya from Queensland, Australia, a rare collection of American Chestnuts also planted by Bidwell, Black Tupelo, Windmill Palm and many others.

There will be two more walks, showing off a different group of trees, on March 24 and April 7. They also will meet in front of the mansion at 10 am. For further information, call Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park at 895-6144 or the University at 898-6222.