In the Arthur S. Holden Sr. Hedge Garden is the spectacular new magnolia named ‘Daybreak.’ It bears large fragrant pastel pink flowers from the end of April until the third week of May. It is columnar in habit, currently 11’ tall and 4’ wide. In the Conifer Collection, along Sperry Road as it turns east down the hill on the right is another specimen that is 13’ x 4’. Both trees were grafted in 1997 and planted in 2002.
The tree in the hedge garden usually starts blooming a few days earlier than the one in the conifers, given its sunnier aspect. Serbian spruce provides a deep green backdrop to the showy pink flowers in the conifers where ‘Daybreak’ has retained its central leader. The hedge garden tree has multiple leaders and many one-inch flower buds that are covered with fine silky hairs. These buds will not be confused with pussy willows as the star and kobus magnolias have been, but they are an attractive feature.
‘Daybreak’ is precocious, with two-year grafts and even some one-year plants blooming. The individual flowers come out of bud very upright with the outside of their tepals pastel pink. The tepals are blush pink to whitish on the inside and open up to 8-10” in diameter. The fragrance is wonderful — not too sweet or too strong and certainly not musky. Individual flowers, once they open fully, are a bit floppy and ungainly, but their overall effect for 2-3 weeks is fabulous.
The medium green foliage expands in May and falls in November. The individual leaves have wavy margins and can be as much as 10” long and 6” wide. The foliage is not susceptible to mildew nor is it subject to any significant pests. The gray bark on young trees is smooth. The thin bark near the base of young trees can be cracked by frost, especially on the west side. Wrapping burlap around stakes driven into the ground away from the base will protect the bark from winter sun.
‘Daybreak’ is perhaps the most outstanding tree that the late Dr. August E. Kehr of North Carolina produced. Kehr hand pollinated Magnolia x brooklynensis ‘Woodsman’ with one of the Gresham hybrids — ‘Tina Durio’ being his best guess. One of the parents of ‘Woodsman’ is our native cucumber tree, Magnolia acuminata that imparts its large leaves and vigorous growth to ‘Daybreak’.
‘Daybreak’ was introduced to commerce in the 1980s and was registered as a cultivar in 1990. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society awarded it a Gold Medal in 2004. There is no danger of it seeding in or becoming invasive in natural areas.
Since ‘Daybreak’ has a narrow outline and is adapted to urban atmospheres, it has been proposed as a substitute for the callery pear. It makes an outstanding specimen tree that deserves a place in our landscapes.