I'm interested in the Civil War and, while I was poking around the internet this week, I found this narrative by a former slave in South Carolina. I was reading it and found a few paragraphs about Southern Magnolias. Kind of amazing that a person describing their time in slavery would bother to make mention of a tree and it's flowers - but I guess it's a testament to how beautiful the tree and flowers are, that he would.
The narrative below is from: SLAVERY IN THE UNITED STATES: A NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF CHARLES BALL: "Here, also, I first observed groves of the most beautiful of all the trees of the wood--the great Southern Magnolia, or Green Bay. No adequate conception can be formed of the appearance, or the fragrance, of this most magnificent tree, by anyone who has not seen it, or scented the air when tainted by the perfume of its flowers. It rises in a right line to the height of seventy or eighty feet; the stem is of a delicate taper form, and casts off numerous branches, in nearly right angles with itself; the extremities of which, decline gently towards the ground, and become shorter and shorter in the ascent, until at the apex of the tree, they are scarcely a foot in length; whilst below they are many times found twenty feet long. The immense cones formed by these trees are as perfect as those diminutive forms which nature exhibits in the bur of the pine tree. The leaf of the magnolia is smooth, of an oblong taper form, about six inches in length, and half as broad. Its colour is the deepest and purest green. The foliage of the Bay tree is as impervious as a brick wall to the rays of the sun, and its coolness, in the heat of a summer day, affords one of the greatest luxuries of a cotton plantation. It blooms in May, and bears great numbers of broad, expanded white flowers, the odour of which is exceedingly grateful, and so abundant, that I have no doubt, that a grove of these trees, in full bloom, may be smelled at a distance of fifteen or twenty miles. I have heard it asserted in the south, that their scent has been perceived by persons fifty, or sixty miles from them.
This tree is one of nature's most splendid, and in the climate where she has placed it, one of her most agreeable productions. It is peculiar to the southern temperate latitudes, and cannot bear the rigours of a northern winter; though I have heard that groves of the Bay are found on Fishing Creek, in Western Virginia, not far from Wheeling, and near the Ohio river. Could this tree be naturalized in Pennsylvania, it would form an ornament to her towns, cities, and country seats, at once the most tasteful and the most delicious. A forest of these trees, in the month of May, resembles a wood, enveloped in an untimely fall of snow at midsummer, glowing in the rays of a morning sun."
Here's where it came from (scroll down to page 133): http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/ballslavery/ball.html