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The state tree of Mississippi, the magnolia, is also the state flower. Approximately 80 varieties of magnolia exist, and six of these are indigenous to Mississippi. Lawmakers did not specify which of these six varieties they favored as the state tree of Mississippi when they adopted it as a symbol in 1938, but it is commonly believed to be the southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora.
The southern magnolia, like other varieties, is valued for its waxy, fragrant, and stunning creamy white blossoms and leathery, shiny green leaves. The state tree of Mississippi can grow to 80 feet (24.38 meters) under ideal conditions. The tallest southern magnolia in the country, 122 feet (37.18 meters), is found in Mississippi, and it was designated a National Champion by the American Forestry Association.
The southern magnolia is revered by botanists and the public for the splendor of its blooms, and the state’s schoolchildren felt the same way in 1900. Children around the state wanted the southern magnolia to become the official state flower. Lawmakers granted their wish, but not until 1952, making Mississippi the only state that chose the magnolia for both state symbols, giving Mississippi its nickname, the Magnolia State. The magnolia also is the state flower of Louisiana.
The state’s schoolchildren also were involved in the selection of the state tree of Mississippi. A state forestry official asked the children in 1935 to choose the tree that would be an emblem of their state, and the children were offered four suggestions: pine, magnolia, dogwood and oak. The children were asked to cast ballots for their favorite, and the magnolia emerged the winner.
The state tree of Mississippi is also known as the large-flower magnolia, bull bay, evergreen magnolia and big laurel. The flowers can be as large as 8 inches (20.32 centimeters). The tree’s branches will dip low to the ground if not pruned, with shade preventing any type of successful planting under the tree. The magnolia’s wood is used in the manufacture of furniture, and birds and other forms of wildlife flock to its seeds.
Other varieties of magnolia trees can sport blossoms that are yellow, red, purple or pink. These blooms are generally safe from deer’s eating habits, unlike many ornamental trees and plants. Fossils have been found of magnolias that date to 36 million years ago, and some of these fossils are even older, dating to 58 million years ago.