The bark of the magnolia tree is called “hou pu” in Chinese medicine, and its use in Chinese herbal medicine probably dates back to the first century. Magnolia bark was used to help restore proper digestion and aid in the treatment of abdominal distention, vomiting and abdominal pain. It is still used today by oriental medical practitioners. In India, magnolia bark is used to treat malaria and rheumatism.
There are at least 80 species of magnolia trees, and we are fortunate to have some of them growing here in South Carolina. Fossils of magnolias dating back more than 20 million years have been found. The Southern magnolia is, therefore, considered “an aristocrat of trees” because it provides beauty, shelter and shade. It is an evergreen that flowers from June to September and of course the wonderful aroma is known by all who are familiar with this stately tree. The tree provides essential oils, soap, lotions and perfumes, and naturally floral arrangements are seen in many appreciative homes.
The 1989 movie “Steel Magnolias” was based on a group of Louisiana friends and ladies who were as “delicate as magnolias and as tough as steel.”
It was, therefore, with considerable sadness and empathy that many of us who knew and loved the Dinosaur Tree at First Presbyterian Church here in Aiken accept its recent passing as a honorable, respected, sad and inevitable event. One tree does not make a forest, but this tree had a forest of friends, and most of them were under the age of 6 when they first met the “Magnolia Dinosaur.”
By the way, Andrew Jackson took two magnolias from Nashville to Washington, D.C., and planted them in honor of his wife near the South Portico of the White House. Those trees are still alive today, and, when the $20 bill used to feature that side of the White House until about 1998, the magnolias were seen. Presently the North Portico is featured, but I know of one magnolia in South Carolina that provided much more than $20 worth of security to many people here in Aiken.
David Keisler is a gastroenterologist and internist in Aiken.