Magnificent Magnolias — heralds of Lucca’s spring

The heralds of spring are celebrated around the world, but one of my favourites is the flowering of the magnolias in Lucca’s Corso Garibaldi. Here, if the weather is spring-like, the flowers emerge in late February or early March. On the other hand, if there is a sudden late frost, the buds darken and die. The flowers last for a few weeks and then they are gone.

The magnolias in Corso Garibaldi were planted in 1955 to cheer up an ordinary street. Corso Garibaldi itself used to be known as ‘Via del fosso coperto’ and the plan to cover the fosso was conceived by Nottolini who also designed the beautiful acquaduct. The flower beds to house the magnolia were designed by the town architect Maffei.

The magnolias themselves, of which there are around 50 trees, are Magnolia Soulangiana. This hybrid was first created from Magnolia denudata (yulan) and Magnolia lilliflora by the Frenchman Etienne Soulange Bodin who was a cavalry officer in Napoleon’s army. The Napoleonic connection is significant because this hybrid was first brought to Lucca by Napoleon’s sister, Elisa Baciocchi who ruled Lucca with her husband until the fall of Napoleon, and were planted at the Villa Reale in Marlia. It is said she was trying to rival Empress Josephine who had already planted this hybrid in her garden at Chateau de Malmaison.

I love the fact that magnolias themselves are said to date back 95 million years with remains having been found in fossils. That is before the advent of bees, so they were pollinated by beetles. They are also native to north and south America as well as the Himalayas and East Asia, so they are very international plants like our community here in Lucca! Magnolias are supposed to symbolise love of nature, nobility, perseverance and dignity.

As you can see from the photos this hybrid has flowers that emerge on bare twigs. There are small and larger flowers which range in colour from white to pink and maroon, often with veins of darker pink. They stand out beautifully against the blue sky and the soft yellows and greys of the buildings in Corso Garibaldi.

Do go and see them before they are gone!

Post and photos by Carol Tomlinson.

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