Photo by Peter J. Gossett

The "Cowcumber" Tree is often called Bigleaf Magnolia, "Silverleaf" Magnolia, and "Umbrella-tree." It's scientific name is Magnolia macrophylla Michx.

It has the largest flowers and leaves of all North American species (except for tropical palms) and a broad, rounded crown of stout, spreading branches. It's diameter is 1 1/2', height 30-40', leaves 15-30" long 6-10" wide, reverse ovate, broadest beyond middle, mostly blunt at tip, notched with 2 rounded lobes at base, not toothed, bright-green above, with silver hairs beneath and stout, hairy leaf-stalks, 3-4" long.

The bark is light gray, smooth and thin. The twigs are stout, hairy, with large leaf-scars at nodes and ending in large buds covered with white hairs.

The flowers are 10-12" wide, cup-shaped with 6 white petals with spot at base, fragrant and blooms in late spring and early summer.

The fruits 2 1/2-3" long, cone-like, elliptical or nearly round, rose red, composed of many separate short pointed 2-seeded hairy fruits, maturing in autumn.

It's habitat is in moist soil of valleys, especially ravines, in understory of hardwood forests. It's range is mostly the southeastern U.S., especially in the Bankhead National Forest, where it grows prolific.

Many people have used the leaves for dippers by turning down one side of the leaf and gathering the bottom part around and bringing the ends together.