This stop is excerpted from Planting Edo, a field guide created in partnership with the Harvard Art Museums. The guide pairs Arboretum specimens with paintings from the Museums' exhibition Painting Edo: Japanese Art from the Feinberg Collection.
The Ōyama magnolia grows as a large shrub or small tree with moderately sized green leaves. Its beautiful white flowers have distinctive slender crimson-red stamens and yellow-green cone-shaped pistils at the center. The name Ōyama magnolia comes from the Japanese name for the plant: Ōyama mokuren. The plant is also known as Siebold’s magnolia, or Magnolia sieboldii, for Philipp Franz von Siebold (1796–1866), a German physician, botanist, and explorer active in Japan during the Edo period.
Magnolia sieboldii have protogynous—or female-forward—flowers with a unique, two-day life cycle. Nodding flowers open slightly on the first day, then close before reopening more fully on the second day. This painted fan, Magnolia by Suzuki Kiitsu (1796–1858), captures this kinetic change over time: at left a downturned “day one” flower is slightly open, while at right a “day two” flower is fully open, facing upward. If you look closely, you will notice delicate yellow hairs on the green cone-shaped pistil at the center of each flower, which indicates it is ready for pollination.
Suzuki Kiitsu, Magnolia, Japanese, Edo period, early to mid-19th century. Fan; ink, color, gold, and silver on paper. Harvard Art Museums, Promised gift of Robert S. and Betsy G. Feinberg, TL42096.12.4. © President and Fellows of Harvard College.