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Magnolia Day, August 21, 2016

Tuesday 13 September 2016 9:08am

University of Otago Magnolia tree.

Did you note Magnolia Day on campus this year? University of Otago Department of Botany Teaching Fellow John Steel did, and he has the latest information on what is a very special University tree.

Every spring John makes a point of walking through the Quadrangle behind the University’s Registry Building to view the large Magnolia campbellii in full bloom outside the Geology Building. It is a beautiful sight, and is one of the most photographed trees on campus.

The first Magnolia blossom is keenly awaited as it signals the first day of spring for several of the offices that surround it, and some of their staff members have kept records of the event.

John Steel takes up the story …

"Current records began in 1995 when John Williams of the University’s Geology Department kept a note of the appearance of the first blossom.
With John William’s retirement, the mantle of blossom-flowering-time-keeper for the Geology Department fell to Hamish Bowman, and he kindly provided the graphs below.

Interesting to note is a trend towards earlier flowering.

“Why so?” you might ask. “Climatic change!” I hear you shout. Or maybe there’s just an increasing amount of hot air coming from the Registry building? Or maybe older trees just flower earlier?


Just to stir the pot a little, Hamish added this graph for the July temperatures at Dunedin Airport for the same period, and no that’s not an aeroplane tracking off to the right – make of it what you dare.


No peal of bells herald its arrival, no champagne is drunk, no one dresses up in silly hats, but the staff in the Registry and Geology know that spring has arrived.

Hamish set up a webcam to record the flowering sequence - you can watch last year’s arrival in quick-time. It’s interesting to watch the sequence of flowering. 

For more information on the famous tree you can read All eyes on the Magnolia from last year’s Otago Bulletin, the University of Otago Commemorative Register and you can also check out Magnolia Day comments on Yammer.

Better still, go and see for yourself, but by the time you read this it could be all over! Never mind, it’s less than a year until Magnolia Day, 2017.


Big thanks go to Hamish Bowman for his help, but especially for recognising Magnolia campbellii just for being a tree doing what trees do.The old magnolia does a great job of bringing the place back to life – welcome to spring!"

The magnolia was planted in 1965 by Dr Geoff Baylis, Head of the Department of Botany from 1945 to 1979, and is now dedicated to his memory.