Umbrella tree (Magnolia tripetala)

West wall of College Hall Map

Bellingham gets its share of rain. How appropriate, then, that our gardening staff has provided us with a source of emergency umbrellas, in the form of these two umbrella trees, sporting leaves up to 20 in long and half that in width. Too bad most of us are too short to reach them.

The umbrella tree (or umbrella magnolia) is native to the southern Appalachians. Apparently they are little planted elsewhere, possibly because of their scruffy form: Jacobson quotes a source as describing Magnolia tripetala as "a specimen that always seems to be in doubt whether to be a shrub or a tree". Like nearly all magnolias it provides a showy whitish blossom in late spring/early summer. The form of the blossom is somewhat loose and disorganized, with six to nine petals. The name tripetala apparently refers to prominent external protective sepals, which do come in groups of three.

For a magnolia with an even larger leaf, see the description for the bigleaf magnolia.