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Magnolia hybridisation at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden has spanned some 60 years, with the first trials being carried out by Eva Maria Sperber in 1956. Along with Sperber a small team of researchers, including Lola Koerting and Doris Stone, carried out the work at the Kitchawan Research Station, Ossining, Westchester County, New York.
What was particularly interesting about the work was that for the first time an American and Asiatic species were used in the breeding programmes. Magnolia acuminata was selected as the seed parent for the following reasons:-
The Asiatic species used as pollen parents were M. liliiflora and M. denudata.
Hybrids with M. liliiflora were named M. × brooklynensis in 1971. The seedlings of this cross were variable, with leaves differing in shape size and texture, while the flowers too varied in size and colour. Back crosses continued, increasing the percentage of M. acuminata in search of better yellow flower colours, potentially at the expense of flowers and foliage opening simultaneously.
A number of hybridisers have bred from M. acuminata using M. denudata as the pollen parent. However, Brooklyn Botanic Garden led the way in 1956, yielding excellent results, with flowers being of a good yellow colour, size, quality and quantity and significantly later than its precocious flowered parent, flowering generally before the leaves started to unfurl. This cross has never been given a hybrid binomial name. Eva Maria Sperber achieved the first yellow flowered precocious hybrid, which was named ‘Elizabeth’ in 1978.
Magnolia acuminata var. subcordata has also been crossed with M. denudata to produce interesting yellow flowered hybrids
M. acuminata var. subcordata `Miss Honeybee` × M. stellata `Rubra`
An upright, ultimately spreading small tree which takes on the habit of the seed parent yet maintaining the side branching network of an open growing M. stellata. The precocious creamy yellow starry flowers with up to 14 tepals open during late March and April and are frost tolerant, appearing prior to the new leaves which are bronze red as they open. Raised and named by Phil Savage.