Royal Star Magnolia Makes Its Pre-frost Show


‘Royal Star’ is one of my favorite small magnolias. Its smooth, gray branches are laden with complex, sensuous blossoms and fuzzy-gray buds. The rounded shape adapts well to both small and expansive landscapes.

I planted this specimen at the Asheville homeplace in the early ’90’s, then my son and I thinned out its shrubby branches a decade later. Without any other attention, it has grown into a beautifully-shaped little tree about 15′ tall.


‘Royal Star’ (Magnolia stellata) is an early-bloomer, an especially challenging trait this winter. Soon after I took these photos, every blossom was tinged with brown — definitely forlorn-looking compared to a few days before. There was no way to withstand the wildly-fluctuating temperatures that, for days, had risen to the ’80s, then dived to below freezing.

There are other good deciduous magnolias, ones with later bloom cycles, but my family and I have grown fond of this one. Every season, I look out from the kitchen window and see its dense, familiar branches. Gracefully, they occupy the space between the former garden and an old shed that shelters a family of groundhogs.