Where is the FBI when you really need them? Con artists stole my darling Merrill’s identity, and he is so bloody mad it’s enough to make his teeth curl. That is, if he had teeth.
Merrill is a gorgeous, fragrant, white flowering magnolia, la crème de la crème of magnolias. No wonder imposters abound. A few years ago I was reading Montrose: Life in A Garden by plantswoman Nancy Goodwin, when at pages 37 and 38 I was confronted by a magnolia purporting to be Merrill, flaunting pink buds and flowers with pink stripes. There’s no pink in Merrill! I should know; he has graced my garden in Southampton, New York for over twenty years.
Yet upon further reflection I thought, what if my Merrill is the pretender? I raced to the study and checked the definitive magnolia references. Ah, vindication! The experts agree. No pink in Merrill. Goodwin’s magnolia must have been wrongly labeled. (At pages 181-182, she acknowledges that this happened to another of her magnolias.)
Magnolia x loebneri Merrill was hybridized in 1939 at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, the child of a marriage between M. kobus and M. stellata, and in 1952 was named Merrill in honor of Dr. E.D. Merrill, a former director of the Arboretum. Merrill is part of the hybrid magnolia group loebneri, which originated in Germany with Max Löbner, who made the first kobus/stellata crosses shortly before World War I. Why is the group styled loebneri and not lobneri? I haven”t a clue. But my meaningful-other says the answer is no mystery. The German letter ö with a diacritical mark called an umlaut over it is pronounced ee and is always rendered as oe when German names are spelled out in English texts, unless the translator is sloppy. (Is anyone still there?)
In the year of Merrill’s christening, the Arbotetum’s publication Arnoldia reported that Merrill was covered with beautiful white flowers (Arnoldia, vol. 12, no. 6, 1952) and thereafter that Merrill was “[o]ne of the best and most vigorous of the early white flowering magnolias (Arnoldia, vol. 20, no. 3/4, 1960). Indeed, these observations are entirely consistent with all of the documentation provided me by the Arboretum. Pink is not mentioned in connection with Merrill, not ever. Case closed.
Magnolia x loebneri Merrill has much to recommend it: While I garden in USDA zone 7, Merrill will thrive in zones 5 to 8. Growth is rapid , two feet a year , and my trees are now over 30 feet tall. Despite the energy invested in such vigorous growth, Merrill bloomed abundantly at an early age and reliably every year thereafter. The beautiful, snowy-white flowers have a lovely fragrance which carries on the air. Come Fall, when the lustrous green foliage turns a rich autumnal gold, plump scarlet red fruit attracts an assortment of migrating birds.
Why settle for less?