Mary Vaux Walcott. Sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana). 1927. Watercolor. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Artist

Long they sat and talked together…
Of marvelous the valley hidden in the depths of Gloucester woods,
Full of plants that love the summer, blooms of warmer latitudes,
Where the Arctic birch is braided by the tropics’ flowery vines,
And the white magnolia blossoms star the twilight of the pines!

John Greenleaf Whittier Excerpt from The Garrison of Cape Ann, 1857.

Behind the downtown houses and above the wharves were wonderful gardens—until the fires of 1830 and 1864 destroyed much of the landscape. The artist Fitz Henry Lane’s garden was particularly praised for its sweet bay magnolia tree. Indeed, Lane was said to be the one of the “first to cultivate this beautiful and fragrant sprout of the woods” taken from its most northern native site.