the cut opinion pages

Magnolia Flowers Become Leaves Too Fast

Photo: Ellen Rooney/Getty Images

We do not deserve the magnolia tree. It is too beautiful; we are too wicked. Its trunk and twisting branches are pleasant to behold even when bare and covered in snow, and its springtime buds build anticipation for new life — love, happiness, warmth. Its blooms, of various colors and shapes depending on the species, are genuinely breathtaking. Its subsequent canopy of leaves is bright green and lovely. It is unfair for a person to critique such a thing as the magnolia tree, as its existence provides pleasure disproportionate to the amount of pleasure those who behold it have earned, as evidenced by the large population of magnolia trees in Washington, D.C. However, I do feel I should speak up about one issue.

Magnolia trees don’t keep their pretty flowers long enough, and they switch too fast to their shitty old leaves.

There are a few magnolia trees in my neighborhood. In the little park, there are three with very fragrant white flowers. The sweet, clean, almost peonylike scent gets to you before you even turn the corner, carried on the breeze, and it is so nice. There is another pink-flowered one that fully covers a neighbor’s driveway and I am so jealous of that neighbor, mostly because of their access to the tree but, admittedly, also because they have a driveway.

Though each of these trees has just bloomed within the past week or two, they are all already dropping their flowers onto the ground, like trash. Soon they will just be stupid regular-leaf trees. Why? (When the driveway neighbor’s tree sheds all of its flowers, they fully cover that neighbor’s car, which is the karma they deserve for having both the tree and a driveway.) (Car-ma.) This is not a tenable situation. Their bloom is the nicest part of the year, in terms of trees I experience daily. It needs to last longer.

For those who might not have such intimate access to the flower cycle of the magnolia, I’ve found this beautiful time-lapse video from New York City’s Frick museum:

Although the tree comes fully into flower bloom only around 2:35 p.m., by 2:44 it is already beginning to show signs of leaves. By 3:19 it is quite leafy, indeed. By 3:31 it is overtaken. Only a few flowers hang on at 3:49, and by 4:22 the flowers are but a memory.

Luckily, if the magnolia tree is willing to work with me, I have a solution. I would like to request the magnolia tree keep its full bloom of flowers for one week longer than it does currently.

This is not a big ask. It’s just one week. One extra week of the pretty flower tree without too many petals falling on the ground. An extra week of that soft, sweet scent at the park. I know we don’t deserve it, but that hasn’t stopped us from getting a number of other inordinately nice things in the past, like our friendships and our dogs. Why should it stop us now, with the trees?

I understand the sweetness of impermanence. I understand that seeing the petals and immediately thinking, Oh no, this is going to go away very soon is the incorrect way to think about it and that we should simply be present and enjoy life’s beauty, letting it flow in its natural way, appreciating the magnolia tree in each of its incarnations. However, I also feel like maybe the magnolia tree could just meet me halfway and keep its flowers a little bit longer. (One week.)

Should I have asked for two weeks in anticipation of the tree negotiating down to one? Well. Yes, maybe. But I’ve already shown my hand and said one, so I hope the magnolia tree can find within itself the ability to be reasonable about accepting my first offer. It’s just one week.

Magnolia Flowers Become Leaves Too Fast