Cucumber Tree

Basic Information
Tree ID: 
Genus and species: 
This cucumber tree is situated in a fairly isolated patch of lawn outside of Marsh Hall. Because it is one of two very tall trees in the immediate area, it has access to plenty of sunlight. These trees grow best in moist, rich, well-drained loams, and it appears that the soil our tree is growing in meets this description. They also tend to grow in a scattered manner rather than in groves. Cucumber trees are native to North America, and especially to the Appalachian belt and the southeastern United States. Additionally, there is a populuation in Southern Ontario, which makes the Cucumber tree the only magnolia native to Canada. The large magnolia gets its name from its green, cucumber-like fruits that develop after its greenish-yellow flowers wilt. The leaves, though our tree has not grown any yet, are simple, ovate, alternating leaves that are yellow-green in the summer and gold in the fall. It is unusual for magnolias to have leaves that change color, so this is a relatively unique feature of the Cucumber tree.
Lilly Scheibe and Emma Goodman
Collected Data
Tree shape: 
Date of tree entry: 
33.00 m
Diameter at breast height: 
3.58 m

The bark of the cucumber tree has deep furrows and flattened ridges. It is smoother when the tree is young and becomes more furrowed as the tree matures.
Twigs & branches
The twigs of the Cucumber tree have a red-brown hue and terminal buds while the branches have a more grey-brown hue. Magnolia trees are hardwoods, meaning that they are relatively resistant to freezing and thawing. However, they are considered "soft hardwoods" because of the amount of air within the wood, and this makes their twigs more breakable than other hardwoods.
Leaves are simple, alternate leaves that are oval to oblong and 4 to 10 inches long. Leaves are pinnately veined and are dark green in the summer and yellow in the fall. They come to a tapered point, giving the tree its "acuminate" name. Silvery, furry buds protect the leaves until they can come out during late April or early May.
Reproductive Structures
Cucumber trees are monoecious, meaning flowers have both male and female parts. The stigmas become receptive before the anthers release their pollen; this promotes cross-pollination between individual cucumber trees. Flowers are large and yellow-green and emerge after many other magnolias have flowered, in late spring or early summer. They are much less remarkable than other magnolia flowers as well, and bloom mostly at the top of the tree.
The fruit of the cucumber tree is aggregate, cone-like and bumpy, and matures from bright green to bright red when it is ripe. Because we did not have any fruit on our tree during the course of the Yale Nature Walk project, we obtained these images from the website for the University of Guelph Arboretum.
  • Cucumber tree in winter
  • Cucumber tree in late spring/summer
  • Cucumber tree in autumn (Stock Photo)
Natural range of distribution: 
Cucumber trees grow in rich, slightly acidic, moist soils, usually in forests or swampy woodlands. Typical habitats include elevated areas within or near swamps. Cucumber trees are usually found in isolated areas and tend to grow individually, rather than in groves.
Origin, history, and uses: 

Cucumber trees are often planted in parks and gardens as shade trees, due to their large size and abundant leaves. The bark and wood of cucumber trees is often used for furniture and other products. Additionally, cucumber trees have been used for hybridizing new varieties of cucumber trees that share hardiness and yellow flowers.

Cucumber tree buds start to show in early spring and leaves emerge in late April or early May, with flowers emerging afterward until June.

Distribution map: “Magnolia acuminata.” Wikipedia. Accessed April 20, 2019.

“Cucumber Tree: Magnolia acuminata.” COSEWIC. Accessed April 20, 2019.

Virginia Tech Dendrology. “Cucumber tree.” Accessed April 20, 2019

University of Texas at Austin. ”Magnolia acuminata.” Accessed April 20, 2019

Photo of cucumber tree in summer:

Photo of cucumber tree in winter:

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