plant genus indigenous to subtropical Asia and eastern North America, very ornamental and frequently cultivated, 1748, named by Plumier from Magnolius, Latinized name of Pierre Magnol (1638-1715), French physician and botanist, professor of botany at Montpellier, who devised the systematic classification of plants, + abstract noun ending -ia. As the name of the pale pink color of magnolia blossoms, by 1931.
Introduced from Turkey to Europe, where the earliest known instance of a tulip flowering in cultivation is 1559 in the garden of Johann Heinrich Herwart in Augsburg; popularized in Holland after 1587 by Clusius. The tulip-mania raged in Holland in the 1630s. The full form of the Turkish word is represented in Italian tulipano, Spanish tulipan, but the -an tended to drop in Germanic languages, where it was mistaken for a suffix. Tulip tree (1705), a North American magnolia, so called from its tulip-shaped flowers.
It also appears in Romanic words from Latin that have been borrowed into English, such as opera, plaza, armada. It figures in scientific names coined in Modern Latin (amoeba, soda, magnolia, etc.) and is common in geographical names formed according to Latin or Greek models (Asia, Africa, America, Arabia, Florida, etc.)
In English it marks sex only in personal names (Julia, Maria, Alberta) and in a few words from Italian or Spanish where a corresponding male form also is in use (donna, senora).