Saturday, January 24, 2009
Fieldtrips - Colonial Heights Cucumber Magnolia
Recently, suffering from severe cabin fever, I made a trip up to Colonial Heights Virginia to see a well-known, very old cucumber magnolia tree. I had seen pictures of it from time to time, and having recently heard Nancy Ross Hugo speaking on her book, Remarkable trees of Virginia, I worked up the energy to make the drive. It was one of those beautiful 60 degree days that we often get in early January.
The tree is located in a neighborhood very close to downtown Petersburg, so after a great lunch at the Andrade International Restaurant, I made the short drive across the Appomattox River to find the tree.
The tree is located in an old neighborhood just off Route 1, one of those pre-big box business strips that cut through older towns. The tree is next to the Violet Banks Museum, a small house that for a time served as the headquarters for Gen. Robert E. Lee and is now a history and decorative arts museum. A sign in front of the tree says that may have been planted in 1718 as a gift from Thomas Jefferson but according to Remarkable Trees of Virginia, it is probably much younger than that. There is some evidence it may have been planted in 1833.
While not exceptionally tall, the tree's trunk is quite enormous and the spread is huge, about 110 feet. Several of the large lower limbs are supported on wooden posts. Even without leaves it was a very impressive sight.
If you want to see a cucumber magnolia closer to home, there are a couple in Colonial Williamsburg; one next to the Ludwell Tenement and one next to the Tayloe House, both on Nicholson Street. Unlike the Colonial Heights tree, these two trees are upright, making it difficult to see the flowers.
I'm looking forward to going back to Colonial Heights in the late may when it's in bloom. I'll have to time it right though because the flowers don't seem to last very long and the last couple of years I've missed seeing the local ones in bloom. I don't have any pictures of the flowers yet but here are some pictures of the seed pods, whose picklish shape give the tree its common name.