Fall Apart Beautifully

I’ve been enjoying the big fragrant blooms of the Southern Magnolias in my neighborhood.  I’m taking pictures of them in all their phases.  I brought a few home and a friend brought me one, too.  The blooms don’t last long.  But while they are alive they send out a rich sweet aroma.  There is a sharp contrast between the white flower and the dark green leaves.  A feast for all the senses.


The Southern Magnolia is a generous tree all year long.  It’s an evergreen, but they aren’t pines.  Their leaves are smooth and tough:  green on one side and a suede like sage on the other.  When they fall, the leaves turn a golden yellow, eventually breaking down and feeding the trees with their elements.  The life cycle illustrated in the form of a tree.


When I was a girl, I loved the magnolia for its low branches.  It was an easy tree to climb and hide in.

Now I just enjoy them, even though most of it flowers grow much higher than I could ever reach to steal.

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In the fall, they create the most lovely cone of bright red seeds.  I always collect a few for the studio.  They stay red for a long time, over a year.

magnolia pod
Magnolia pod by Joy Murray

About a week ago, I was rolling home in my wheelchair and the magnolia tree that’s by the driveway dropped a bud in my lap.  It was a soft sage cone, like a little creature.


I was enchanted, but concerned.  I didn’t want the tree to shed its buds before they bloomed.

But they bloomed and are still doing so.


So of course, I had to paint one.

Magnolia Dream by Joy Murray, 8×10″, acrylic on stretched canvas

Afterwards, I looked up the parts of the flower, it’s such an unusual shape.  All flowers have unusual shapes, but the floral axis of the magnolia is really remarkable.


I found an article on Magnolias by William Friedman, director of the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University, titled Magnolia Flowers Fall Apart Beautifully.

We are all destined to fall apart.  What if we recognized the beauty in that?   I’m not minimizing the pain and suffering we go through, but there are times when I’m out in nature and seeing the life cycle around me; I feel it in my body, the cycles of love and life and loss.

Here we are in the midst of pandemic.  I am further along in the degeneration of my disorder.  And yet a magnolia tree has given me a bud, flowers and ideas for painting.  I can follow the example of that tree, and fall apart as beautifully as possible.




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2 thoughts on “Fall Apart Beautifully

  1. Thank you Joy for this thoughtful study on Magnolias. Such a treasure from every season- and for so many purposes- one of my favorite being the scent. Just “borrowed” one today from a neighboring tree! I’ll send you one of my fave pics of son Leon at age 4 in the branches of a Magnolia in our neighboring cemetery. So glad you found William Friedman. You can get on his mailing list to enjoy something special about what’s flowering in the Arboretum each month. I don’t think I’ve read that particular article, but am looking to it. I loved your article by the same name- and the fact that a magnolia plopped a gift right in your lap!💚💙🤩

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. I signed up to Friedman’s mailing list. I’m glad you knew about it. Every once in a while I’ll get something will fall in my lap — a perk from being in a wheelchair. Once a full camellia because that’s how they drop — all at once, once a pine cone and now a magnolia bud. There’s treasure everywhere!

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