Large, fragrant white flowers cover W.B. Clarke anise magnolia (Magnolia salicifolia 'W.B. Clarke') in early spring. The common name of this large shrub references the anise (or licorice-like) fragrance emitted by its crushed leaves during the growing season. Like many other magnolias of Asian origin, the flowers of this cultivar are prone to injury from late spring frosts. This cultivar name honors W.B. Clarke of San Jose, California, who was a prominent hybridizer of magnolias in the 1930s.
Members of the genus Magnolia are known for the stunning beauty of their usually large flowers, which emerge prior to the foliage in spring, and are often fragrant. While shades of pink are the most common bloom color, the Magnolia palette also includes white, yellows and purples. Another dominant feature is a prominent fruiting body of small follicles forming a cone-like shape. The species range from small trees to very large trees and shrubs.
Magnolias are an ancient genus that appeared before bees; early pollinators are believed to have been beetles. They are native to eastern and southeastern Asia and eastern North America, Central and South America; most are not hardy in the Chicago region. Buds and blooms of the magnolias that do thrive here are often subject to damage from cold spring nights. The genus includes of 300 species and numerous hybrids and cultivars. The Chicago Botanic Garden's collection includes almost 60 varieties of magnolia and more than 150 plants.