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.
The Herbal Dispatch February 2008
Appalachian Plant Profile: Cucumber Magnolia
By Dean Myles, Coordinator Medicinal Botanicals Program Mountain
Magnolia acuminata L. is a large deciduous broadleaf tree commonly
known as cucumber magnolia, cucumber tree, or mountain magnolia
. 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 . 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 . 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 .
M. acuminata timber is often sold as/or with yellow poplar
(Liriodendron tulipifera) . 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 . 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 . 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 .
Cultivation of M. acuminata is from seed. Seeds are stratified at
32-41°F for 3 months . 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 . Average seed germination rate is about 55%
after stratification . 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 . 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 http://plants.usda.gov/
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 http://www.na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvicsmanual/volume2
3. Native American Ethnobotanical Database Magnolia acuminata,
University of Michigan-Dearborn. Accessed on 2/14/08 at http://herb.umd.umich.edu/
4. Plants for a Future Database M. grandiflora, M. macrophylla, M.
virginiana, M. officianalis, M. denudate. Accessed on 2/14/08 at http://www.pfaf.org/index.html
5. USDA Plants Database Magnolia acuminata Accessed 8/3/07 at http://plants.usda.gov
6. Strausbaugh, P. D., Core E., 1978 Flora of West Virginia Seneca
Books, Inc. Morgantown, WV Photograph: (c) 2002 Steven J. Baskauh.
Courtesy of http://www.cas.vanderbilt.edu/bioimages/frame.htm
Russ, Interesting that the Mag., family has so much
to offer in
medicinal areas. So much of the old remedies like these are
The Native Americans knew it all, to bad we've lost that!
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.