A magnolia tree grows by the entrance to my small house. The earliest proof of spring is a cloud of fragrant pink at my doorstep and the intoxicating scent wafting indooors. Later on glossy green leaves appear but only after dropping petals carpet the ground beneath.

Geologists have found fossil remains of Magnoliaceae dating to a 100 million years ago. Magnolias existed alongside dinosaurs, and long before bees buzzed busily. The flowers were pollinated by beetles, and developed tough carpels (tarpels) for protection against insect damage. Look closely at the center of the flower and you will see a conical shape formed by numerous pistils spiralling in geometrical precision. This cone nests in a circlet of carmine-edged stamens—so many patterns, designs, colors for a curious eye to explore. See more »