The Magnificent Magnolia of Destin

First Photo: The original, 172 year-old Magnificent Magnolia tree. Middle Photo: One of the only cuttings of the cloned Magnolia Grandiflora to survive. Last Photo: Cherrylake Propagator, Leo Huerta (right of Magnolia) standing next to the clone Magnolia tree. He cared for it for over 6 years before it was planted in it’s new home.

March 2020 Destin, FL | For 172 years, Destin’s Magnificent Magnolia graced the town. It was once the docking point for the town’s namesake, Leonard Destin, a fishing captain in the mid 1800s. Unfortunately, overtime the tree’s coastal environment and countless storms and hurricanes caused it to become weak and frail, leading Destin’s heirloom into terminal decline. It was believed the Magnificent Magnolia which once adorned the town would become a memory. Fortunately, in 2013, members of the BrightView Landscape Services team preserved the genetics of the tree in the form of five cuttings. These cuttings were entrusted to Cherrylake, a leading tree farm in the southeastern United States. 

Southern Magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, are one of most difficult plants to propagate (even when healthy it has a success rate of only 50-60% on average), and the Magnificent Magnolia’s cuttings were stressed and very old. Regardless of the potential obstacles, Cherrylake excitedly accepted the challenge with hopes to preserve the heritage of Destin’s famed tree. 

One of the five cuttings provided to Cherrylake persevered. Leo Huerta, the Propagator at Cherrylake and a member of the Cherrylake team for over 20 years, oversees more than 1 million cuttings a year. Because of Huerta’s expertise and passion for propagation, Cherrylake successfully propagated and grew a clone of Destin’s historical Magnificent Magnolia.

Todd Gentry, Director of Production at Cherrylake, explains, “In our business, we find a lot of purpose in how trees can outlive us, and how much they can contribute to building healthy, vibrant communities. This project was a really fun and rewarding one, because it proves how much meaning trees can have in our history, and how much a community can be shaped by them. I’m glad Cherrylake was able to contribute its horticultural expertise to keeping the heritage of this tree alive in the community.”

On Friday, February 14th, 2020, Destin’s community gathered, and the cloned tree was ceremoniously replanted yards away from the memorial location of its mother tree. The young tree is genetically identical to its mother and will closely resemble her in both growth habit and appearance.

While the Magnificent Magnolia no longer stands, her history will continue to live on in the new planting.

Over the past 7 years, the original cuttings from the historic Magnolia were meticulously cared for at our Cherrylake Farm. As you can see, only one of them survived, which makes this tree’s story even more magnificent.