Cucumber Tree Notes  Feb 26, 2008
Below is an excerpt from The Herbal Dispatch which is a medicinal botanical publication from Mountain State University in Beckley, WV.  I know many ENTS are old hats at some of the trees we often discuss but there are some interesting points about the tree's historic utility I thought would provoke some thought.
Russ Richardson
The Herbal Dispatch February 2008
Appalachian Plant Profile: Cucumber Magnolia
By Dean Myles, Coordinator Medicinal Botanicals Program Mountain State University

Magnolia acuminata L. is a large deciduous broadleaf tree commonly known as cucumber magnolia, cucumber tree, or mountain magnolia [1]. This large native tree can achieve heights of over 120 ft. M. acuminata has an alternate leaf and twig arrangement. The twigs are stout, reddish brown, and smooth, however young twigs are pubescent. The terminal bud is present and has unmistakable pubescent silver buds. The leaves are 5-10 inches in length, entire, and pointed at the apex. The leaves are green above and pale and pubescent underneath. The thin scaly bark is reddish to grayish brown. The bark resembles that of white oak, Quercus alba, but is much softer. The bell-shaped yellow-green flowers are perfect, 2 1/2- 3 1/2 inches wide, and located at the end of the twig. The fruit is a cone of red follicles (dry seed pods) with 10-60 orange seeds about 2 1/2 - 3 inches long [2]. Seed production begins when trees are around 30 years old. M. acuminata is a reliable seed producer with good crops every 4 - 5 years. Seed dispersal is by birds, wind, water and gravity. The largest tree reported in West Virginia has a 66 inch dbh and a height of 78 ft [1]. M. acuminata is one of the largest and hardiest of the native magnolias but it is short lived; the species seldom lives more than 150 years [2].
M. acuminata timber is often sold as/or with yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) [2]. The closed grained wood of M. acuminata is heavier and stronger than that of L. tulipifera. M. acuminata's wood is generally used for furniture, blinds, siding, interior trim, sashes, doors, boxes, and creates. M. acuminata is also wildly planted as an ornamental shade tree and the rootstock is often used in grafting magnolia cultivars. The bark and fruit of M. acuminata also has been used medicinally. The bark once was used as an alternative source of quinine for malaria and typhoid fever [3]. Bark tea has also been used to treat indigestion, rheumatism, worms, and toothaches. A fruit tea was used for general debility and stomach ailments. Many members of this genus, including M. grandiflora, M. macrophylla, M. virginiana,and the Chinese natives M. officianalis and M. denudata, have similar traditional uses [4]. Native Americans and Chinese both sniffed hot bark infusions of M. acuminata and M. officianalis, respectively, for sinus ailments.
M. acuminata can be found growing with yellow poplar, sugar maple, basswood and spicebush on cool moist sites in West Virginia. Core reports that cucumber tree is present in every county of West Virginia, being most plentiful west of the Allegany mountains [6]. Cultivation of M. acuminata is from seed. Seeds are stratified at 32-41F for 3 months [2]. This can be achieved by planting in cold frames or pots in the fall. The seed usually germinates in the following spring but sometimes takes 18 months, skipping one spring season [4]. Average seed germination rate is about 55% after stratification [2]. Once saplings reach a height of 16 inches they are ready for transplanting. Although M. acuminata is endangered in Florida and Indiana, it is considered to be secure within its natural range [5]. Due to reduced habitat, high seed mortality, and low germination rate, harvest should be for personal use only. Remember to contact your local native plant program or the National Plants Database at for species status.
1. Hicks, Ray R. Jr. 2007 Trees of West Virginia Bruce Lyndon Cunningham Productions. Nacogdoches, TX
2. Smith, Clay, H., Magnolia acuminata Cucumber Tree. Accessed on 2/14/08 at
3. Native American Ethnobotanical Database Magnolia acuminata, University of Michigan-Dearborn. Accessed on 2/14/08 at
4. Plants for a Future Database M. grandiflora, M. macrophylla, M. virginiana, M. officianalis, M. denudate. Accessed on 2/14/08 at
5. USDA Plants Database Magnolia acuminata Accessed 8/3/07 at
6. Strausbaugh, P. D., Core E., 1978 Flora of West Virginia Seneca Books, Inc. Morgantown, WV Photograph: (c) 2002 Steven J. Baskauh. Courtesy of

Russ,   Interesting that the Mag., family has so much to offer in
medicinal areas. So much of the old remedies like these are forgotten!
The Native Americans knew it all, to bad we've lost that!   Larry



One of the references cited is actually an enthnobotanical website.  The past few years the study and science of ethnobotany has taken off like a rocket and the Internet has really assisted in finding out how much diverse historical documentation of Native American life relative to plants is actually out there and the involvement of all things botanical in native peoples' life is now growing in appreciation.