My star magnolia has some strange-looking pods where the buds for next year’s flowers appear. Out of curiosity, I cut one open to find orange seeds. Is this normal? Can I plant them and when?
The strange-looking pods are just your star magnolia’s (Magnolia stellata) fruit. They are completely normal and if left to open naturally, the orange seeds would have scattered on the ground. They could possibly germinate or be eaten by birds and other wildlife. Because the habit of a star magnolia is that of a rounded shrub, they are often grouped in a bank or hedge. They also can be limbed up and shaped to a small tree. The smooth gray bark is exemplary on mature plants. Although star magnolias are hardy to zone 4, their early spring flowering is at the mercy of weather. Late freezes and damaging spring winds take a toll on the delicate, white, and fragrant multi-petal blossoms. If your star magnolia is not a named cultivar, such as ‘Centennial’ or ‘Rosea,’ but the species, then the orange seeds could be viable and produce the same plant from which they came. However, the method most often used to propagate star magnolias is rooted stem cuttings. This ensures that the same plant characteristics will be generated. That is not to say collected seed will not germinate. For production propagation, stem cuttings and occasionally grafting are used to maintain and ensure consistency in genetics. The fact you cut the pod open could mean the seeds are not yet fully matured, and if planted before the ground freezes, may not germinate. If you want to experiment, plant the seeds in a protected area, in full sun and preferably in a peaty, organic, well-amended soil and see what happens.