The Ancient One
The Cucumber Tree is Ontario’s only native Magnolia species which is also endangered. Magnolias are one of the oldest families of flowering plants, they evolved on Earth as far back as 95 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. While there were dinosaurs at that time, bees still did not exist, so magnolias evolved to be pollinated by beetles. The Cucumber Tree gets its name from its fruit which is cucumber-like in appearance, and changes from green to red as it ripens. Once ripe, the oily, scented seeds are exposed and hung by fine threads. It is assumed that birds are the main consumers and dispersers of these seeds. Cucumber Magnolias can grow to up to 30 meters and have a pyramid-like canopy shape.
Traditionally, the bark of M. acuminata was used to reduce fever and inflammation, and as a replacement for quinine (to treat malaria) in some areas. The Cucumber Tree was used by the Cherokee and Iroquois First Nations for a variety of medicinal purposes including alleviating stomach aches and toothaches.Cucumber tree cultivation began in 1736 introduced by the Virginia botanist John Clayton. Like many newly discovered species native to America, during the colonial period, Cucumber Tree seeds were sent to England to be studied by naturalists and botanists. In the Americas, Cucumber Tree was used by First Nations due to its medicinal properties. Unripe Cucumber Tree fruit was also used to add flavor to whiskey, which gave the drink a bitter taste.