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Ashe’s Magnolia Redux


January 05, 2021

Revisiting the 2017 Freeman Plant of the Year

Ashe’s magnolia (Magnolia ashei), a rare beauty from the Florida panhandle, received the Montine McDaniel Freeman Horticulture Award in 2017 as The Garden Club of America’s native Plant of the Year. Valued for its large creamy white blossoms with pink and purple markings that bloom in late spring, its citrus scented fragrance, and its cone-shaped pink-purple aggregates that add fall interest, it is heat tolerant and disease resistant. Magnolia ashei has been praised as “an ideal specimen tree for the small garden.”

The GCA’s acknowledgement of Magnolia ashei was prescient. While worthy of these accolades, M. ashei is an endangered species. The GCA’s recognition dovetailed with five years of genetic and field research efforts conducted by scientists at the U.S. National Arboretum, which has laid the foundation for genetic conservation efforts and new introductions of this charismatic ornamental species. 

Magnolias are part of the oldest flowering plant family living today, with relatives that grew alongside the dinosaurs. The genetic diversity of this primitive group is comprehensively represented in the Arboretum’s germplasm repository. All eight native magnolia species are on display in its Fern Valley Native Plant Collection.

The Freeman Medal was established to highlight underutilized, but highly worthy, native plants. The goal of the medal is to draw attention to select native plants to encourage their use in the landscape and make them familiar to gardeners and more available in nurseries. The Arboretum’s collection of germplasm is a critical global resource, providing plants such as Magnolia ashei with a strategy for species conservation. 



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