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16 Different Types of Magnolia Trees & Their Identifying Features (With Photos)

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Written By Lyrae Willis

Environmental Scientist & Plant Ecologist

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Home » Tree Types » 16 Different Types of Magnolia Trees & Their Identifying Features (With Photos)

Magnolias are magnificent flowering trees and shrubs with luxurious leaves and often fragrant and massive flowers in various colors that make an excellent addition to any landscape.

Magnolias are part of the Magnoliaceae family of basal angiosperms. They are an ancient lineage of flowering plants that evolved about 100 million years ago before many bees were around to aid in pollination, so they likely relied on beetles.

The Magnolia is a large genus of approximately 225 currently accepted species found mostly in Asia, with about ¾ of the species being native to China.

There are also numerous species in North America, Central America, the West Indies, and a handful of species in South America.

I will show you how to identify the different types of magnolia trees and look at 16 different common species in detail, along with some of their more popular cultivars.

Contents show

Magnolia Tree Identification (With Photos)

Magnolias are a peculiar ancient genus of flowering trees. The Magnoliaceae predate most of the bees, and several evolutionary features seen in later flowering plants.

They are considered to be one of the basal angiosperms that diverged early on from the lines that led to monocots and dicots, the two main groups of flowering plants. They have characteristics that are usually a mix of, or in between, those of monocots and dicots.

Their flower buds are enclosed in bracts rather than sepals which evolved later, possibly from bracts.

They also have variable numbers of tepals rather than perianth parts that are differentiated into specific numbers of petals and sepals, as seen in those that evolved later.

Identifying Magnolia Trees by Their Leaves

Magnolia leaves can be evergreen, semi-evergreen, or deciduous, and their texture can vary from thick and leathery to thin and papery.

The leaves are always simple (not compound), their margins are always entire (not toothed), and they are rarely lobed.

Comparison - Simple vs Compound Leaves
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

The size of their leaves varies significantly. Few are small, many are medium and large, and some are quite massive. Big Leaf Magnolia has the largest simple leaf of any species native to North America at over 3 ft long!

Identifying Magnolia Trees by Their Leaf Arrangement

Their leaves are arranged in one of two ways.

They are often arranged distinctly alternately in a spiral rather than distichous fashion. An alternate spiral arrangement is where the leaves are one per node arranged alternately but in a spiraling pattern around the stem.

This is different from the more common alternating on opposite sides producing two distinctive rows with one leaf per node (distichous), as is seen in many other alternate-leaved trees.

Or sometimes, their leaves are crowded in terminal whorl-like clusters. These whorl-like clusters are not true whorls because there is still only one leaf per node, but the nodes are so compressed that they appear in false whorls, looking like there are multiple leaves per node.

Leaf Arrange - 3 Square - alternatespiral alternatedistichous faslsewhorl - Magnolia
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Magnolia Trees by Their Stipules

Magnolias typically have conspicuous deciduous stipules – leafy appendages found at the base of leaves. They typically encase the apical leaf buds protecting them until they emerge, and then they usually fall off by the time the leaves are fully mature.

In magnolias, stipules can be so large they can actually appear to be leaves themselves. Stipules may be hairless to pubescent, pilose, or glandular. The size of the stipules and their surface features can be helpful in identifying the different types of magnolias.

Stipules - 2 Square - of Magnolias
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Magnolia Trees by Their Leaf Shape

Leaf shape is a great way to identify the different types of magnolia trees.

Their leaf blades are elliptic (widest in the middle and narrowing at both ends, shaped like an ellipse), oblong (with elongated parallel sides and mostly rounded bases and tips), ovate (egg-shaped, widest at the base), obovate (like ovate but widest at the tip), oblanceolate (like narrowly obovate, widest at the tip and narrower at the base but with a length-to-width ratio of 3:1 or greater), or rarely they may be almost round (suborbicular).

Leaf Shape - 6 Square - elliptic oblong oblanceolate obovate ovate suborbicular
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Magnolia Trees by Their Leaf Tips (Apex)

The leaf tips are also useful in identifying the different magnolia species.

Leaf tips can be acute (the two sides are mostly straight and meet at an angle of less than 90°), short or long acuminate (where the two sides narrow to a fine point), obtuse (the two sides meet at an angle of greater than 90°), rounded (no angles, smooth), emarginate (notched or indented slightly), or mucronate (the tip is mostly rounded but ends abruptly in a sharp point).

Leaf Apex - 6 Square - acuminate acute emarginate mucronate obtuse round
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Magnolia Trees by Their Leaf Base

Leaf bases also vary widely in magnolia species.

Bases can be cuneate (wedge-shaped, angled at less than 90°), obtuse (angled at greater than 90°), rounded (no angle), truncate (abruptly cut off, truncated, as though cut by scissors), cordate (heart-shaped, notched where the petiole attaches, creating lobes on either side), or auriculate (like cordate but with the lobes bending inwards like an earlobe bending towards the neck).

Rarely bases can be oblique, meaning asymmetrical, with one side larger or extending further down the petiole than the other.

Leaf Base - 6 Square - auriculate cordate cuneate obtuse round truncate
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Magnolia Trees by Their Hairs & Other Surface Features

Magnolias often have plant hairs (trichomes) on many of their surfaces, including one or both leaf surfaces, stipules, twigs, leaf buds, spathaceous bracts on floral buds, and their fruits.

The type and color of these hairs and their presence or absence are great ways to help identify the different types of magnolias.

Botanists have so many terms for these surface features, and some have more than one term commonly used. But I will try to keep it simple and show you the different types of trichomes and other surface features commonly seen in magnolias.

Magnolias can have plant hairs (trichomes) that are pubescent (soft and straight), puberulent (like pubescent but shorter), pilose (soft and straight, like pubescent but longer), villous (soft and long but not straight), tomentose (long, curled, and matted against the plant surface), or appressed (hairs are flattened against the plant surface, typically in one direction).

Some surfaces have glandular hairs that are topped with an often colorful gland.

Other surfaces can be tuberculate, which is covered with wart-like projections (sometimes seen in carpels).

Finally, some surfaces are slight to very glaucous, which is an epicuticular waxy secretion on plant surfaces that gives it a blue-green or blue-gray look but can easily be rubbed off.

Surfaces - 9 Square - appressed glandular glaucous pilose puberulent pubescent tomentose tuberculate villous
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Magnolia Trees by Their Flowers

Magnolia flowers are perhaps the most fascinating part of the magnolia tree, and I love all parts of all trees. But magnolia flowers are often massive. In North America, they are the largest single flower native to the continent.

Being from the basal angiosperms, magnolias are unique, and their flowers are no exception.

Their flowers normally appear either before or with the leaves, though in a few species, they appear after the leaves.

They are bisexual (containing both functional male and female parts in the same flower) and are usually arranged singly, not in groups (inflorescences) on the branches.

They do not have sepals like flowers that evolved later. Instead, they have two spathaceous bracts (a spathe-like bract) that enclose the developing bud. These bracts are usually pubescent, pilose, or villous but may also be hairless.

While people often refer to magnolia ‘petals,’ they do not have petals either; they are tepals. Tepals are what we call flower parts that are not clearly differentiated into petals and sepals.

There are usually 9 – 15 tepals (more in some cultivars with double flowers) in three or four whorls (like layers or rows counting from the inside out).

Their tepals are usually petaloid in that they usually look like petals. But occasionally, their outer whorl is sepaloid and looks like sepals.

Magnolia Flower Morphology - 2 Square
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Magnolia Trees by Their Androgynophore

The androecium is made of the male reproductive parts of a flower, which is made of all the stamens. A stamen is made of a filament (a stalk) topped by an anther (the reproductive organ that produces and releases pollen).

In Magnolias, the stamens’ filaments are often short and poorly differentiated from the anthers, so they typically appear as a single unit (see photo below – the purple at the base of the stamen is actually the filament while the rest of the whitish ‘stalk’ is the anther). The filament color and sometimes the stamen’s length is used to identify the different types of magnolias.

In most magnolias, the stamens are caducous, meaning they fall from the flower early on, in this case, once pollination is complete.

The gynoecium is all the female reproductive parts of a flower. In magnolias, the gynoecium is usually made of many pistils (50 – 100 or more), but sometimes there are only a few.

A pistil is a distinct unit that is made of an ovary, which contains the ovules or unfertilized seeds of the flower, plus a style (like a stalk, but it directs the pollen into the ovary) and a stigma (the receptive surface that receives the pollen).

Even when the surface is densely pilose, you can recognize each pistil by the curved style and stigma that protrudes beyond its surface. Each pistil will later produce a single follicle (fruit – see below).

Magnolias have a unique structure called an androgynophore, where their androecium and gynoecium are linked together in a single conspicuous conical structure.

The structure itself is made of an elongated part of the flower’s receptacle. The androecium and gynoecium are both attached to this structure that is located at the center of the flower.

The stamens of the androecium are located at the bottom of the androgynophore, and the pistils of the gynoecium are located at the top. If you look at the photo below, you will see the stamens on the bottom and the stigmas and styles above.

And because the stamens fall off early on, often you will only see the gynoecium on what appears to be a stalk but is actually part of the floral receptacle that the androecium used to be attached to.

Androgynophores are not common, but not all that unusual, either. Many plant families have their own versions of these.

What is unusual in magnolias is their often very large size and that their stamens and pistils are not arranged in whorls like most flowering plants and like their own tepals usually are. Instead, they are spirally arranged around the conical structure.

Magnolia Androgynophores - 3 Square
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Magnolia Trees by Their Fruits

The fruit of the magnolia is an aggregate fruit known as a follicetum made of many follicles.

Aggregate fruits are a single fruit structure made of the merging of multiple ovaries and the fruits that they become.

In magnolias, each pistil in the flower produces a single follicle.

A follicetum is an aggregate of follicles. In magnolias, the follicles are spirally arranged around the elongated floral receptacle that the androphore and gynophore were attached to.

Follicles are a type of dry fruit that forms from one ovary and contains two or more seeds and typically dehisces (splits open) along a suture to release the seeds.

Magnolia follicetums are usually ovoid (egg-shaped, like ovate but 3-dimensional) but may be cylindrical or elliptic. The mature pistils are typically distinct and can be counted.

They are either leathery or woody, dehiscing along sutures along the outer surface, and they have a long or short-beaked tip created from the persistent style.

There are usually one or two seeds per follicle that are typically coated in an orange-red, bright red, or sometimes dark pink, fleshy, and oily aril (coating).

The seeds are typically extruded from the follicles on a short thread (funicle), which may or may not be visible. Birds eat the seeds for their fleshy arils and disperse them in their feces.

Fruits - 2 Square - follicetums magnolia
Images by William (Ned) Friedman, Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, and Lyrae Willis, Own Work – Combined and Text Added by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Magnolia Trees by Tree Habit or Form

Habit, sometimes referred to as form, is the overall shape a tree has when viewed from a distance. Often, it is used interchangeably with crown, but crown typically refers to the part with the leaves, whereas habit refers to the entire above-ground structure.

Magnolias can be either shrubs or trees. When they are shrubs, they are often multi-trunked. Trees can be single-trunked, multi-trunked with two or more trunks that form from the ground up, or forked where the main trunk splits into two or more trunks little ways up from the ground.

Tree Habit - 3 Square - forked multitrunk singletrunk
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Most magnolias have open, spreading crowns created by a mix of horizontal, ascending, and descending branches.

Sometimes they have rounded, oval (narrowly rounded), columnar (thin and tall, like a column), pyramidal (widest on the bottom and narrower on top, like a Christmas tree), conical (similar to pyramidal but a little narrower on the bottom, more bullet-shaped), or even fastigiate which is sometimes called narrowly columnar (where the branches ascend so strongly that they are almost vertical creating a very narrow crown).

Tree Habit - 6 Square - columnar conical fastigiate openspread pyramidal rounded
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Identifying Magnolia Trees by Bark

Magnolia bark does not vary much, but it can still help distinguish certain species.

All bark starts out smooth when it is young. It is usually gray but sometimes can be brown or even reddish-brown. Often, the young bark has visible lenticels – small horizontal to somewhat rounded raised bumps on the bark’s surface. These are pores that allow for gas exchange.

Often, magnolia bark remains more or less smooth for the tree’s lifespan, but the lenticels usually disappear as it ages.

Other bark will develop vertical grooves as it matures.

Sometimes it develops vertical and horizontal grooves and splits into scaly rectangular plates. Sometimes it develops irregular grooves creating irregular to somewhat rounded plates.

Occasionally bark becomes exfoliating as it matures. This is where it peels off in layers where its raised rectangular or irregular ridges occasionally peel off, creating a mottled look.

Bark - 6 Square - exfoliating grooved irregularscales lenticels scalyplates smooth
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

16 Different Types of Magnolia Trees & Their Identifying Features

There are different types of Magnolia trees. Let’s break them into groups and look at some from each group. The main groups are:

  • Evergreen magnolias
  • Deciduous saucer magnolias
  • Deciduous magnolias with star-shaped flowers
  • Big leaf magnolias

Evergreen Magnolias

This is my favorite group of magnolias because it contains my favorite magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora.

Evergreen magnolias are those that retain their leaves all year long. Some can be semi-evergreen, where they are evergreen in warmer climates but become deciduous in colder climates.

Evergreen magnolias tend to have thick, leathery leaves, but they can also have thinner leaves.

These beautiful trees can transform your backyard or pretty much anywhere around your property that has the room for them.

1. Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)

Southern Magnolia - Grid 2 Square
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Southern Magnolia is an iconic and famous magnolia, for good reason.

It is a big, beautiful tree with luxurious glossy green leathery leaves and massive white blossoms.

Being a large tree, it is unsuitable for small gardens other than dwarf cultivars.

Like most magnolias, it requires consistently moist, well-drained soil. It is not suitable for xeriscaping or other areas without access to water.

It can be grown in most soil types as long as it contains organic matter, but it prefers somewhat acidic soils. Topdress yearly with compost.

It is pest, disease, and deer resistant and tolerates pollution and salt.

It can be grown in full sun or partial shade.

These should not be planted next to foundations or sidewalks. Their roots are not especially invasive, but it is a large tree and needs room to grow.

Southern Magnolias are a great option to plant if you are looking to make your house look more expensive.

Identifying Features of the Southern Magnolia

Southern Magnolia is a large evergreen tree with a single or forked trunk and smooth brownish or gray bark becoming thick and grooved or plated when mature.

Twigs and foliar buds are densely red or white pubescent to pilose.

Leaves are arranged alternately and have two densely brown, silky-pubescent, and sometimes deeply notched stipules, 1.8 – 5.1” long.

Leaves are elliptic or oblanceolate, 3 – 10 ¼” long, 1 ¾ – 5” wide, leathery, glossy green above, and hairless to densely red-brown puberulent below. Leaf bases are narrowly cuneate; tips are acute to short-acuminate.

Flowers are lemony fragrant, 5.9 – 17.8” wide, with two leathery brown to grayish pilose, notched spathaceous bracts. Tepals are creamy white, often 9 in 3 whorls. Stamens have short purple filaments with long whitish anthers.

Follicetum is cylindrical to somewhat obovoid, 2 ¾ – 4” long, about half as wide, with beaked follicles, sparsely to densely silky-villous.

Often Confused With: Southern Magnolia is mostly confused with the Sweet Bay Magnolia, which is a smaller tree or large shrub, often multi-trunked from the ground up, with smaller stipules, less leathery leaves with more variable tips and bases, much smaller flowers, and hairless follicles in its follicetums.

Other Common Names: Evergreen Magnolia, Magnolia, Bull Bay, Big Laurel, Large Flower Magnolia

Native Area: Endemic to the southeastern United States, from Virginia south to central Florida, west to East Texas.

USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 10

Average Size at Maturity: 60 – 80 ft tall, 30 – 50 ft spread

Some Cultivars Available (left to right):

Southern Magnolia Cultivars Group 1 - Grid 3 Square
Images Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize
  1. Southern Magnolia Magnolia grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ has the same luxurious leaves and massive flowers as the Southern Magnolia in a slightly more compact form, growing 30 – 50 ft tall. – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
  2. Edith Bogue Magnolia Magnolia grandiflora ‘Edith Bogue’ is a hardier variety (USDA zones 5 – 9) of the Southern Magnolia that grows to 60 ft tall with huge flowers and the same luxurious glossy green leaves as the parent strain. – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
  3. D.D. Blanchard Southern Magnolia Tree Magnolia grandiflora ‘D.D. Blanchard’ is a full-sized cultivar (to 50 ft) with a narrow, compact upright habit allowing it to fit in narrower spaces than the parent strain. – Image via Nature Hills
Southern Magnolia Cultivars Group 2 - Grid 3 Square
Images Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize
  1. Little Gem Magnolia Tree Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’ is just like the parent strain but in a much more compact size, up to 20 ft tall and 10 ft wide, making it a great choice for smaller landscapes. – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
  2. Green Giant Magnolia Magnolia grandiflora ‘Green Giant’ has rich glossy leaves up to 8” long and massive white flowers to 10” across. It tolerates drought, urban, and seaside conditions in zones 7 – 10. – Image via Nature Hills
  3. Kay Parris Magnolia Magnolia grandiflora ‘Kay Parris’ is a cross between the ‘Little Gem’ and ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’. It’s more compact than other magnolias and blooms continuously from June to September. Also more drought tolerant than most magnolias. – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees

2. Sweet Bay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana)

Sweet Bay Magnolia - Grid 2 Square
Image via Nature Hills and Lyrae Willis, Own Work – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Sweet Bay Magnolia is similar to the Southern Magnolia but a little smaller, with lighter green leaves and smaller but still lovely flowers.

It is often evergreen but can be semi-evergreen in the northern end of its range.

It is easily grown in acidic, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade.

It prefers moist, rich, organic soils. However, unlike most magnolias, it doesn’t require well-drained soils and will tolerate wet, boggy soils and even heavy clay.

It makes an excellent specimen tree for lawns or borders and can be planted near patios and foundations.

Identifying Features of the Sweet Bay Magnolia

Sweet Bay Magnolia is an evergreen or semi-evergreen multi-trunked or single-trunked small tree or shrub with smooth dark gray bark.

Leaves are alternate and have two brownish puberulent and red-glandular stipules 1.2 – 2.4” long and 0.2” wide.

Leaf blade is oblong to elliptic, ovate to obovate, 2.4 – 8.6” long, 1 – 2.75” wide, somewhat leathery, with a cuneate base and obtuse, acute, rounded, or short-acuminate tip. Lower surfaces are chalky white to glaucous and hairless to densely silky-pubescent; upper surfaces are green.

Flowers are fragrant, 2 – 3.2” wide, with two spathaceous bracts that are silky-pubescent (outer bract) and nearly hairless and red-glandular (inner bract).

Tepals are creamy white and red-glandular; outermost segments are reflexed and greenish. Stamen filaments are white.

Follicetums are ellipsoid to almost rounded, 0.8 – 2.2” long, and more than half as wide. Follicles are short-beaked and hairless.

Often Confused With: Sweet Bay Magnolia is often confused with Southern Magnolia, but that one is a larger tree with more leathery, darker green leaves, larger flowers with pilose spathaceous bracts, and villous rather than hairless follicles in its fruits.

Other Common Names: Swamp Magnolia, Laurel Magnolia, Swampbay, White Bay, Beaver Tree

Native Area: Southeastern United States along the Gulf and Atlantic coastal states from Eastern Texas east to Florida and north to New York.

USDA Growing Zones: 6 (5 with protection) to 10

Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 35 ft (to 100 ft) tall, 10 – 35 ft spread

Some Cultivars Available:

Moonglow Sweetbay Magnolia
  1. Moonglow® Sweet Bay Magnolia Tree Magnolia virginiana ‘Jim Wilson’ is a semi-evergreen compact (to 35 ft) cultivar with showy cup-shaped creamy-white flowers that bloom from late spring till summer. – Image via Nature Hills

Deciduous Saucer Magnolias

Saucer magnolias are known for their large, cup-shaped flowers with wide and often very colorful tepals.

3. Lily Magnolia (Magnolia liliiflora)

Lily Magnolia Magnolia_liliiflora
Image by George Chernilevsky, Own work, Public Domain

The Lily Magnolia is a small tree or shrub popular for its early spring fragrant reddish-purple or pink lily-like flowers.

This species is one of the parents of the very popular hybrid Saucer Magnolia.

It is best grown in moist, fertile, slightly acidic, well-drained organic loams in full sun or light shade. Mulch the root zone yearly with compost.

It will not perform well in poor soils and should be protected from strong winds and late spring frosts.

They require consistent moisture throughout the year and are generally intolerant of extremely wet or extremely dry soil.

Powdery mildew may present a problem; ensure the tree has good air circulation in its location.

Identifying Features of the Lily Magnolia

Lily Magnolia is a compact, rounded, shrubby, deciduous magnolia that rarely grows past 12 ft tall and wide.

It has obovate to elliptic dark green leaves up to 7” long with acute to long-acuminate tips.

Lily-shaped reddish-purple, purple-pink, or pink flowers appear in spring from relatively short spathaceous bracts at or just before leaf emergence.

Flowers have six or sometimes seven purple tepals that are white on the inside and are 3 – 4” long each.

Conical follicetums sometimes follow the flowers but are not always seen.

Often Confused With: Lily Magnolia is often confused with Saucer Magnolia, but that one usually grows larger, has larger leaves, and slightly larger flowers with larger bracts about half as long as the petals.

Other Common Names: Purple Magnolia, Lily Magnolia, Tulip Magnolia, Woody Orchid, Red Magnolia, Jane Magnolia, Mulan Magnolia

Native Area: Endemic to southwestern China

USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 10

Average Size at Maturity: 8 – 15 ft tall, 8 – 12 ft spread

Some Cultivars Available (left to right):

Lily Magnolia Cultivars - Grid 4 Square Landscape
Images Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize
  1. Jane Magnolia Magnolia x ‘Jane’ is a cross between M. liliiflora ‘Reflorescens,’ and M. stellata ‘Waterlily’ noted for its compact, upright habit, large reddish-purple flowers with white interiors and late bloom in a multi-stemmed small tree or shrub. – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
  2. Ann Magnolia Magnolia x ‘Ann’ is a cross between M. liliiflora ‘Nigra,’ and M. stellata ‘Rosea’ noted for its chalice-shaped flowers (to 4″ wide) that are slightly fragrant and may sporadically repeat bloom in mid-summer. It has ovate, medium green leaves (to 6″ long). – Image via Fast-Growing-Trees
  3. Galaxy Magnolia Magnolia x ‘Galaxy’ is a hybrid magnolia of M. liliiflora ‘Nigra’ x M. sprengeri ‘Diva’ that is a later blooming variety to avoid the spring frosts, with deep purple buds opening to rose-purple flowers. Hardy zones 5 – 9. – Image via Nature Hills
  4. Betty Magnolia Shrub Magnolia ‘Betty’ is a hybrid cross of Magnolia liliiflora Nigra’ and Magnolia stellata with a compact size and frost-resistant white and purple fragrant cup-shaped flowers. – Image via Nature Hills.

4. Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana)

Saucer Magnolia - Grid 2 Square
Images by Lyrae Willis, Own Work – for Tree Vitalize

Saucer Magnolia is the most commonly grown deciduous magnolia, usually grown as a multi-trunked shrub.

It has profuse early spring fragrant blossoms in pink and white.

It is best grown in moist, acidic, rich, well-drained organic loams in full sun to part shade. It generally will not tolerate very wet or dry soils and should be protected from strong winds.

It is generally pest and disease-resistant, but occasionally leaf spot, canker, or scale can be an issue.

Since it is an early bloomer, its flowers could suffer from late spring frosts. If you live in an area with frequent late spring frosts, it may be best to choose a later-blooming variety, like the cultivars listed above under Lily Magnolia.

Identifying Features of the Saucer Magnolia

Saucer Magnolia is a deciduous small tree or multi-trunked shrub with a rounded crown growing about as wide as it does tall.

Leaves are medium green, not glossy, larger than both of its parent strains, with usually long-acuminate tips and cuneate bases.

Stipules are hairless to sparsely pubescent.

Fragrant flowers up to 8” wide bloom in early spring before the leaves emerge. Spathaceous bracts are usually silky-pubescent to silky-pilose, about half as long as the petals.

Flowers are pink with white interiors, often with nine tepals, but cultivars are available with many tepals in white, pink, rose, purple, magenta, and burgundy.

Flowers may sporadically bloom in late spring on new growth, but they are typically less vigorous and less colorful.

Follicetums are reddish cylindrical to elliptical with follicles that are mostly hairless and are not beaked. They are uncommon and not plentiful when they do occur.

Often Confused With: Saucer Magnolia is sometimes confused with Lily Magnolia, one of its parents. Lily Magnolia tends not to grow as tall, has smaller leaves, has slightly smaller flowers with shorter spathaceous bracts, and it tends not to bloom again past early spring.

Other Common Names: Chinese Magnolia

Native Area: N/A

USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 30 ft tall, 20 – 30 ft spread

Some Cultivars Available (from left to right):

Saucer Magnolia Cultivars - Grid 2 Square
Images via Nature Hills and Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize
  1. Genie Magnolia Tree Magnolia x ‘Genie’ is a hybrid cultivar from Magnolia soulangeana and Magnolia liliiflora with very dark black-red buds that open to showy 6” maroon-purple blooms in a dwarf form growing to 10 ft tall and 5 ft wide. – Image via Nature Hills
  2. Alexandrina Saucer Magnolia Magnolia x soulangeana ‘Alexandrina’ is a versatile small tree or large shrub with showy dark purple flower buds and huge cup-shaped flowers with light pink and white interiors. – Image via Nature Hills

5. Sprenger’s Magnolia (Magnolia sprengeri)

Image by peganum, CC BY-SA 2.0

Sprenger’s Magnolia is a small deciduous tree with abundant white, whitish, pink, or red flowers that appear in early spring.

While it is not often grown commercially, several popular cultivars have been developed.

In its native environment, it thrives at high altitudes in mountainous habitats.

Like most magnolias, it prefers slightly acidic, rich, well-drained soils in full sun to partial shade.

It was named after Carl Ludwig Sprenger, a German botanist born in 1846.

Identifying Features of Sprenger’s Magnolia

Sprenger’s Magnolia is a small deciduous tree with pale grayish-brown to blackish-brown, scaly bark with roundish or irregular plates that may be somewhat exfoliating.

Young twigs are pale yellowish brown.

Leaves are obovate, dark to medium green, 4 – 7” long, 1.75 – 4” wide, with a rounded to obtuse base and a short to long acuminate tip.

Flowers are fragrant, emerging before the leaves, erect, cup-shaped, 5.9” wide, and have 12 – 14 tepals that are white to rosy-red.

The fruit is a cylindrical follicetum 2.4 – 7” long.

Often Confused With: Sprenger’s Magnolia is an uncommon tree, so it is not often misidentified. However, it is sometimes mistaken for Sargent’s Magnolia, which has leaves with a cuneate base and rounded tips that may be emarginate or mucronate; its mostly larger flowers are usually somewhat pendulous rather than erect and are pale red to pale purplish red with purple filaments and purple stigmas, and the pistils of its follicles are densely tuberculate (warty).

Other Common Names: Wu Dang Yu Lan

Native Area: Endemic to China in Gansu, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Shaanxi, and Sichuan forests at 4265 – 7875 ft above sea level.

USDA Growing Zones: 6 (5 with protection) to 9

Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 50 ft tall, 25 – 30 ft spread

6. Sargent’s Magnolia (Magnolia sargentiana)

Sargent Magnolia - Grid 2 Square
Images by William (Ned) Friedman and William (Ned) Friedman, both Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Sargent’s Magnolia is a classic tree magnolia with early spring blossoms that appear before the leaves emerge.

Flowers tend to be somewhat pendulous so that their paler pink inner surfaces are more visible than in other similar magnolias.

It is not one of the more hardy magnolias, only hardy to zone 7, so be aware of your USDA growing zone before planting.

Many of those sold in North America are labeled as M. sargentiana var robusta, described and collected in the early 1900s. However, the seeds collected then and the offspring from it still sold today appear different than what was originally described. This means that the common North American cultivar may, in fact, be a so far unnamed hybrid.

This magnolia is listed as Vulnerable in its native habitat in China.

Identifying Features of Sargent’s Magnolia

Sargent’s Magnolia is a small to medium-sized deciduous tree with a thick trunk (up to 3.3 ft wide).

Leaves are obovate or rarely oblong-obovate, 4 – 7.5” long, about half as wide, with dark green glossy upper surfaces and lower surfaces pale green with dense, silvery-gray villous to tomentose hairs. Bases are cuneate, and tips are rounded and emarginate or mucronate.

Flowers are 5.9 – 14” wide, slightly fragrant, and erect or pendulous; spathaceous bracts have pale yellow hairs. There are 10 – 14(-17) pale red to pale purplish-red tepals that are obovate, 3.15 – 4” long, fleshy, with rounded or notched tips.

Stamens have purple filaments, and the pistils are green, rounded, hairless, with purple stigmas.

Folicetums are narrowly cylindrical, 3.15 – 6.7” long, about 1” wide, and usually wrinkled. Mature pistils are densely tuberculate.

Often Confused With: Sargents’ Magnolia is sometimes confused with Sprenger’s Magnolia, which has leaves with rounded to obtuse bases and short to long acuminate tips, flowers that are smaller with 12 – 14 white to rosy-red tepals, and follicetums that may be slightly larger but are not as narrow and its pistils are not densely tuberculate.

Other Common Names: N/A

Native Area: Endemic to Sichuan and Yunnan, China

USDA Growing Zones: 7 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 25 – 65 ft (to 80 ft) tall, 20 – 40 ft spread

7. Yulan Magnolia (Magnolia denudata)

Yulan Magnolia - Magnolia denudata
Image by harum.koh, Kobe city, CC BY-SA 2.0

Yulan Magnolia is also known as Magnolia heptapeta, which is a synonym of Magnolia denudata.

It is a popular traditional tree in China with the longest history of cultivation for a magnolia tree dating back to the Tang Dynasty of 618 AD.

It is a small deciduous tree with a rounded spreading crown, or sometimes it is pruned and grown as a large shrub.

Flowers are light purple to white and bloom before the leaves emerge in spring and are followed by red or brown fruits with red-coated seeds that provide late summer interest.

It grows best in moist, rich, well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade.

Identifying Features of the Yulan Magnolia

Yulan Magnolia is a small to medium-sized deciduous tree with young shoots covered with appressed white hairs.

Leaves are obovate, oblanceolate, or ovate, 3.5 – 7.9” long and less than half as wide with an acuminate tip and acute base and pubescent hairs on both surfaces. Stipules are densely pale yellow silky-hairy.

Flowers emerge before the leaves and are 3.9 – 5.9” wide, cup-shaped, and fragrant on a stout 0.4” long peduncle (flower stalk). Bracts and peduncles are both densely silky-pubescent to pilose.

Flowers have nine obovate-oblanceolate tepals 2.4 – 4” long and 0.8 – 1.8” wide that are gland-dotted purple outside and white inside, with outer tepals narrower than inner ones.

Stamens have short, violet, gland-dotted filaments.

Fruit is a dark brown woody follicetum.

Often Confused With: Yulan Magnolia is mostly confused with White Champaca (Magnolia x alba), but that one is an evergreen tree with flowers with 12 white tepals instead of 9.

Other Common Names: Jade Lily, Lilytree, Lily Tree, Naked Magnolia, Slender Magnolia

Native Area: Endemic to central and eastern China

USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 30 – 40 ft tall, 30 – 40 ft spread

Some Cultivars Available:

Elizabeth-magnolia
  1. Elizabeth Magnolia Magnolia x ‘Elizabeth’ is a cross between the Cucumber tree (M. acuminata) and Yulan Magnolia (M. denudata) with pale yellow blossoms and long dark green leaves. It is hardy in zones 4 – 8 and grows to 40 ft tall and 20 ft wide. – Image via Nature Hills

Deciduous Star-Flowered Magnolias

Star-flowered magnolias are noted for their star-shaped blossoms with narrower and more delicate-looking tepals that are typically arranged in a star-like fashion.

8. Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata)

Star Magnolia - Magnolia Stellata
Image by Agnieszka Kwiecień, Nova, Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Star Magnolia is a late-blooming tree that saves you from the worry of a late spring frost.

It has beautiful star-shaped flowers and makes a great specimen tree or shrub for lawns, foundations, borders, or as a tall hedge.

It is hardier than many magnolias, doing well in zones 4 – 8.

Best grown in full sun in moist, rich, acidic to neutral well-drained organic loams, but it will tolerate clay and partial shade though blooms will be reduced.

It requires consistent moisture and is intolerant of extremely dry or wet soils. It also has a thick, fleshy, shallow root system that does not like to be disturbed.

This narrow endemic of Japan is Endangered in the wild, and its population is decreasing.

Identifying Features of the Star Magnolia

Star Magnolia is a small deciduous tree or shrub with a spreading, rounded, or oval crown and smooth, shiny chestnut-brown bark that matures to silvery-gray but remains smooth.

Leaves are oblong, 4” long, 1.6” wide, and emerge bronze-green but turn deep green by summer and turn yellow in autumn before falling.

Star-shaped flowers bloom from a young age, are slightly fragrant, 3 – 4” wide, and emerge before the leaves. They have 12 – 18 (up to 30 in cultivars) narrow strap-like delicate tepals that vary from white to rich pink and change yearly, depending on the temperatures before and during flowering.

Fruits are a reddish-green, knobby follicetum about 2” long that matures in early fall to dehisce to reveal seeds with orange-red arils.

Often Confused With: Star Magnolia is sometimes confused with Saucer Magnolia, probably just due to the colors in the tepals since the Saucer Magnolia tepals are much broader, not strap-like, and less delicate-looking, and arranged more in a cup than a star-like fashion.

Other Common Names: Magnolia Bush, Starry Magnolia

Native Area: Endemic to the highlands of Honshu Island, Japan

USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 20 ft tall, 10 – 15 ft spread

Some Cultivars Available:

Star Magnolia Royal Star Cultivar - Grid 2 Square
Images Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize
  1. Royal Star Magnolia Tree Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’ is a compact cultivar (to 20 ft tall) with later-blooming double-flowered four-inch blossoms, and it can be grown as a small tree or a shrub. – Images via Fast-Growing-Trees

9. Loebner Magnolia (Magnolia x lobeneri)

Magnolia x loebneria
Image by William (Ned) Friedman, Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Loebner Magnolia is a hybrid cross between a Star Magnolia and a Kobus Magnolia.

It is a vigorous tree that flowers at an early age and is hardier than most magnolias growing well in zones 4 – 9.

It has beautiful white and pinkish-white flowers.

It’s a small deciduous tree that grows up to 30 ft tall and wide and prefers to be grown in full sun.

It tolerates most soils except sandy soils.

It requires moderate moisture and will not tolerate drought or very wet soils.

Identifying Features of the Loebner Magnolia

Loebner Magnolia is a small, usually multi-trunked tree, but occasionally it is a single-trunked tree. It has a rounded crown.

Leaves are obovate, medium green, up to 5” long with acute to acuminate tips.

Flowers are fragrant, star-shaped, 4 – 6” wide, white to pinkish-white, with 10 – 15 tepals that emerge in early spring before the leaves. Cultivars are available in white, lilac-pink, and various pink shades.

Fruit, when present in this hybrid, are conical follicetums with red-coated seeds.

Often Confused With: Loebner Magnolia is often confused with Kobus Magnolia, which is a taller tree with smaller flowers and fragrant darker green leaves that are variable in size (3 – 6”). It is also sometimes confused with Star Magnolia, which has oblong deep green leaves, usually pinkish tepals, and more abundant folicetums.

Other Common Names: N/A

Native Area: N/A

USDA Growing Zones: 4 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 20 ft tall, 10 – 15 ft spread

Some Cultivars Available (from left to right):

Loebner Magnolia Cultivars - Grid 2 Square
Images Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize
  1. Leonard Messel Magnolia Tree Magnolia x loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’ is probably the most famous cultivar of the Loebner Magnolia for its compact later-blooming fragrant flowers that are purple in bud, open to a white interior and age to lavender-pink. – Image via Nature Hills
  2. Merrill Magnolia Tree Magnolia x loebneri ‘Merrill’ is a later-blooming variety to avoid spring frosts. It has showy white, fragrant, 15-tepaled flowers and fine-textured leavers that are narrower than the parent strains. – Image via Nature Hills

10. Kobus Magnolia (Magnolia kobus)

Kobus Magnolia
Image by Katja Schulz, Washington, D. C., CC BY 2.0

Kobus Magnolia is a small to medium-sized deciduous tree or large shrub with late winter or early spring blooms of fragrant white or pink-tinged flowers that emerge before the leaves.

It is often one of the earliest magnolias to bloom, so if you live in an area with lots of late frosts, you may want a later-blooming magnolia.

It flowers poorly when young and may need to reach 25 years old before it flowers reliably.

It is best grown in moist, rich, well-drained organic loams in full sun to partial shade.

It does not tolerate very dry or very wet soils and tends to be intolerant of urban pollution.

New studies in Canada and Korea have shown this tree has the potential to become invasive. It is also listed on the New Jersey state’s list of invasive species.

Identifying Features of the Kobus Magnolia

Kobus Magnolia is a small to medium-sized deciduous tree or large shrub with a pyramidal crown maturing to a spreading, dense, rounded form.

Leaves are obovate, fragrant, dark green, 3 – 6” long, and turn a dull yellow-brown in autumn.

Flowers emerge in early spring or late winter before the leaves. They have strap-like tepals that are fragrant, white, often pink-tinged, and about 4” wide. Stamens have rose-purple filaments.

Fruits are follicetums up to 3” long with seeds with red arils.

Often Confused With: Kobus Magnolia is sometimes confused with Star Magnolia, which is a smaller tree with oblong deep green leaves, slightly smaller flowers, and smaller follicetums with orange-red rather than red arils.

Other Common Names: Mokryeon, Kobushi Magnolia

Native Area: Japan

USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 25 – 30 ft tall, 25 – 35 ft spread

11. Anise Magnolia (Magnolia salicifolia)

Willow-leafed Magnolia - Magnolia_salicifolia
Image by Björn S…, CC BY-SA 2.0

Anise Magnolia is a small to medium-sized deciduous tree with showy white flowers that emerge before the leaves. They have a delicious anise-lemon fragrance that you can also get from the leaves and bark if you scratch them.

The dark green leaves are narrower than most magnolias. Its species epithet means willow, and its other common name is Willow Leaf Magnolia. While they are not as narrow as most willows, they are narrower than most magnolias. In the fall, they turn a lovely shade of golden yellow.

The bright red-coated seeds in their fruits add a pleasing late-summer color to the landscape.

It is easy to grow in any reasonably rich, moist, but well-drained soil.

It is best protected from strong winds.

Identifying Features of the Anise Magnolia

Anise Magnolia is a small to medium-sized deciduous tree with a conical crown and a narrow trunk with dark gray aromatic bark.

Leaves are dull green, gray on the lower surface, aromatic, narrowly lanceolate, alternately arranged, and up to 5.9” long.

It has densely pubescent to pilose flower buds, and its flowers emerge in early spring before the leaves. They are 4” wide, fragrant, white with purple at the base, and have 6 narrow oblong to somewhat obovate tepals.

Fruits are a conical follicetum 2.75” long with seeds with red arils.

Often Confused With: Anise Magnolia is easy to identify by the scent of its flowers, leaves, and bark and its relatively narrow leaves. However, it is sometimes confused with Kobus Magnolia, which also has scented leaves, but that one does not usually grow as tall, has broader obovate dark green leaves, and flowers that are white and pink instead of white and purple.

Other Common Names: Willow Leaf Magnolia

Native Area: Endemic to Japan on the islands of Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu, between 1600 – 4400 ft

USDA Growing Zones: 5 (4 with protection) – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 30 – 50 ft tall, 30 – 50 ft spread

Some Cultivars Available:

Wada's Memory-magnolia
  1. Wada’s Memory Magnolia Magnolia x ‘Wada’s Memory’ is a hybrid cultivar with a pyramidal habit (up to 30 ft tall) and lots of showy white blossoms whose elongated petals are larger than most star-flowered magnolias. – Image via Nature Hills

Big Leaf Magnolias

The Big Leaf group of magnolias is noted for its big leaves though many also have very large and showy flowers. Their often massive leaves make them very popular as shade trees.

12. Big Leaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla)

Big Leaf Magnolia - Grid 2 Square
Images by Nature Hills and Lyrae Willis, Own Work – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Big Leaf Magnolia has the largest simple leaves of any tree native to North America that can reach up to 43” in length.

It is normally a deciduous tree, though it may be evergreen in warmer climates.

Flowers appear in May after the leaves have emerged and are large to very large (to 20”) with white tepals with purple spots at their base.

It is an uncommon tree in the wild with a narrow range, found growing mostly in rich forests in humid valleys.

Best grown in moist, well-drained organic loams in full sun to part shade. It is not drought-tolerant and may not do well in urban environments.

It should be sheltered from strong winds, which may shred the large leaves.

Identifying Features of the Big Leaf Magnolia

Big Leaf Magnolia is a small to medium-sized deciduous single-trunked tree with smooth yellowish to gray bark.

Leaves are in terminal whorl-like clusters with pilose and glandular stipules 3.5 – 6.7” long.

Leaves are broadly elliptic, obovate, or obovate-oblong, 20 – 43” long, 5.9 – 11.8” wide, with truncate, cordate, or auriculate bases and acute, short-acuminate, or obtuse tips. Lower surfaces are chalky white or pale green to glaucous and pilose; upper surfaces are deep green and hairless.

Flowers are solitary, fragrant, 10 – 20” wide, with two spathaceous bracts with a rusty gray outer bract and hairless inner bract.

Tepals are creamy white and glandular. The innermost whorl is purple at the base, and the outermost whorl is greenish and strongly reflexed. Numerous stamens have white filaments.

Follicetums are globose-ovoid, 2 – 3.2” long, and about as wide with short-beaked follicles that are appressed silky-pubescent towards the tip.

Often Confused With: Big Leaf Magnolia is often confused with Umbrella Magnolia, which has shorter, red-glandular stipules, often shorter (but still huge) leaves that have a long-tapering base not seen in other big leaf magnolias, and has foul smelling flowers. It is also occasionally confused with the Fraser Magnolia, which has shorter leaves, usually not over 12” long, that are hairless on both surfaces, and it has smaller flowers, only up to 8.7” wide, and follicetums with hairless follicles.

Other Common Names: Great-Leaved Macrophylla, Large Leaved Cucumber Tree, Umbrella Tree

Native Area: Southeastern USA, mostly Mississippi and Alabama, with scattered populations from Arkansas and Louisiana east to Georgia and north to Kentucky, Ohio, and New York. Also native to parts of eastern Mexico.

USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 30 – 40 ft (to 60 ft) tall, 20 – 25 ft spread

13. Ashe’s Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla var ashei)

Ashe's Magnolia M.macrophylla_var._ashei
Image by Bjocar at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Ashe’s Magnolia is often referred to as Magnolia ashei, though plant authorities consider that a synonym of Magnolia macrophylla var ashei because they share many traits with Big Leaf Magnolia.

It can be grown as a large shrub or a small tree, depending on how it is pruned.

It has huge leaves like the type species, up to 2 feet long, and huge white flowers up to 1 foot long. Flowers appear after the leaves have emerged in spring.

It is best grown in moist, well-drained, acidic to neutral soil in sun or partial shade. It will not tolerate wet soils but requires consistent moisture.

Shelter it from strong winds to prevent the leaves from shredding.

This botanical variant is considered Near Threatened on the IUCN’s Red List.

Identifying Features of the Ashe’s Magnolia

Ashe’s Magnolia is a deciduous, often multitrunked, small tree or large shrub with smooth dark gray bark.

Leaves are crowded in terminal whorl-like clusters with pilose and glandular stipules 2.4 – 3.2” long and about half as wide.

Leaf blade is broadly elliptic to obovate-oblong, 6.7 – 22” long, about ⅔ as wide, with truncate, cordate, or auriculate bases and acute to short-acuminate tips. Lower surfaces are chalky white or pale green to glaucous, pilose; upper surfaces are deep green and hairless.

Flowers solitary or often in pairs, fragrant, 5.9 – 15” (-20”) wide with two spathaceous bracts, one rusty gray and the other hairless.

Tepals are creamy white and glandular. The innermost whorl is purple at the base; the outermost whorl is greenish and strongly reflexed. Stamens have white filaments.

Follicetums are roughly cylindrical, 1 – 2.6” long, about ⅔ as wide, with short-beaked, appressed silky-pubescent follicles.

Often Confused With: Ashe’s Magnolia is often mistaken for Big Leaf Magnolia, which often has larger leaves with more variable leaf tips, flowers that are always single and never in pairs, and usually larger follicetums.

Other Common Names: Ashe Magnolia, Deciduous Magnolia, Dwarf Bigleaf Magnolia

Native Area: A narrow endemic native to a few bluffs and bays of the Florida Panhandle, USA.

USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 10 – 15 ft tall, 8 – 10 ft spread

14. Cucumber Tree (Magnolia acuminata)

Cucumber Tree Magnolia - Grid 2 Square
Images via Nature Hills and Lyrae Willis, Own Work – Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize

Cucumber Tree Magnolia gets its name from its fruits that vaguely resemble cucumbers.

It is a large tree with large glossy medium green leaves with greenish tulip-shaped flowers that are not as showy as most magnolias.

This is the most cold-hardy magnolia, able to do well in USDA zones 3 – 8.

It makes a great shade or specimen tree in colder climates.

It is also one of the fastest-growing magnolias.

It grows naturally in cool moist sites throughout its range, often in the mountains.

In Canada, the Cucumber Tree is listed as an endangered species and is protected under the Canadian Species at Risk Act

Identifying Features of the Cucumber Tree

Cucumber Tree is a deciduous, single-trunked, medium or large-sized tree with dark gray, grooved bark and a pyramidal crown becoming oval or rounded with age.

Leaves are alternate, with two 1.25 – 1.7” long pilose stipules.

Leaves are broadly ovate-elliptic, oblong, oblong-obovate, rarely somewhat rounded, 2 – 16” long, 1.6 – 16” wide, with a cuneate, truncate, or rounded base often slightly oblique (asymmetrical), and an acuminate tip.

Lower leaf surfaces are pale green to whitish, pilose to almost hairless; upper surfaces are green and hairless or rarely with scattered pilose hairs.

Flowers are somewhat fragrant, 2.4 – 3.5” wide, with two silky-pubescent spathaceous bracts.

Tepels are erect, glaucous to greenish, or sometimes yellow to orange-yellow. Outermost tepals are shorter, green, and reflexed. Numerous stamens have white filaments.

Follicetum is oblong-cylindrical, often asymmetric, 0.8 – 2.8” long, about half as wide, with short-beaked, hairless follicles.

Often Confused With: Cucumber Tree is often confused with Umbrella Magnolia due to its large leaves. However, the two can be quickly differentiated by Cucumber Tree’s leaves being arranged distinctly alternately while Umbrella Tree leaves are crowded into terminal whorl-like clusters. Umbrella Tree also has showier but malodorous flowers with purple filaments on their stamens.

Other Common Names: Yellow Bird Magnolia, Cucumber Magnolia, Mountain Magnolia, Blue Magnolia

Native Area: Eastern North America, mostly throughout the Appalachians, with disjunct populations found from southern Illinois east to New York, south to Florida, east to Louisiana, and north to southeastern Oklahoma, and a few small populations in southern Ontario, Canada.

USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 8

Average Size at Maturity: 60 – 80 ft tall, 30 – 60 ft spread

Some Cultivars Available (left to right:

Cucumber Tree Cultivars - Grid 3 Square
Images Combined by Lyrae Willis for Tree Vitalize
  1. Magnolia Butterflies Magnolia x ‘Butterflies’ is a deciduous hybrid magnolia resulting from a cross between the Cucumber Tree and the Yulan Magnolia, noted for its compact pyramidal form and hardiness to both heat and cold. – Image via Nature Hills
  2. Sunspire Magnolia Magnolia x ‘Sunspire’ is a complex hybrid cross from two hybrid parents that were both hybridized from M. acuminata and two different Asian species. It has pretty butter-yellow flowers that bloom in later spring and a columnar form not often seen in a magnolia where it grows up to 20 ft tall and 5 – 8 ft wide. – Image via Nature Hills
  3. Daybreak Magnolia Magnolia x ‘Daybreak’ is a pink-flowered complex hybrid cross from Cucumber Tree, Lily Magnolia, and an unknown additional parent. It has pretty pink flowers and a very unusual narrowly columnar form with strongly ascending branches (fastigiate) growing to 40 ft tall but only 8 ft wide. – Image via Nature Hills

15. Umbrella Magnolia (Magnolia tripetala)

Umbrella Magnolia - Magnolia_tripetala
Image by AfroBrazilian, Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Umbrella Magnolia is a medium-sized tree with large leaves in whorl-like clusters at the branch tips, giving it its common name because the clusters look somewhat like umbrellas.

It is a relatively hardy magnolia, doing well in zones 5 – 8 but can be grown in zone four with some protection from the cold winter winds.

In its native habitat, it grows in moist, rich woods, ravines, slopes, and along streams, mostly in the Appalachian Mountains.

Unlike most magnolias, its flowers are somewhat foul-smelling, but they are beautifully creamy white.

It is one of the most shade-tolerant magnolias and will grow in almost full shade in wooded areas.

It has some invasive potential being self-compatible, able to resprout after cutting, and has escaped cultivation outside its natural range where its seeds are spread by humans and birds.

Identifying Features of the Umbrella Magnolia

Umbrella Magnolia is a small to medium-sized deciduous tree that is often multi-trunked and has smooth gray bark.

Leaves are crowded in terminal whorl-like clusters with 1.6 – 4” long, narrow red-glandular stipules that are sparsely pilose.

Leaf blades are elliptic-oblong, narrowly obovate, or oblanceolate, 4 – 27.5” long, 4 – 11.8” wide, thin, with a cuneate to long-tapering base and a short to long-acuminate or acute tip that is rarely mucronate. Lower surfaces are densely pilose, especially on midveins; upper surfaces are green and hairless.

Malodorous flowers are 2.2 – 4.3” wide with two glandular spathaceous bracts.

Tepals are creamy white, the outermost whorl sepaloid, greenish, and reflexed. Numerous stamens have purple filaments.

Follicetums are cylindric to ovoid-cylindric, 2.4 – 3.9” long, about ⅓ as wide, with long-beaked hairless follicles. Its seeds often have a deep pink aril instead of the usual red.

Often Confused With: Umbrella Tree is often confused with Big Leaf Magnolia but can be distinguished because Umbrella Tree has long-tapering leaf bases not seen in the other large-leaved American magnolias, and it also has hairless twigs, leaf buds, and follicles, unusual for a magnolia which is usually quite hairy.

Other Common Names: Umbrella Tree

Native Area: Endemic to the eastern USA throughout the Appalachian Mountains, the Ozarks, and the Ouachita Mountains.

USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 30 ft tall, 15 – 30 ft spread

16. Fraser Magnolia (Magnolia fraseri)

Fraser Magnolia - Magnoliafraseri
Image by Richtid, Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Fraser Magnolia is not often grown commercially, but it is a beautiful faster-growing magnolia tree with an upright, spreading habit and huge gorgeous leaves.

It is more tolerant of wind than the other large-leaved magnolias and can better resist shredding. The trees may be stunted in windy locations, but they will still grow healthy.

It prefers acidic, moist, well-drained soils and often grows naturally in forested valleys.

Flowers attract numerous pollinators, and birds, squirrels, and other wildlife eat the fruits.

While it is listed as Least Concern, one of its variants, Magnolia fraseri var pyramidata, is listed as Endangered.

Identifying Features of the Fraser Magnolia

Fraser Magnolia is a medium to large-sized deciduous, single-trunked tree with smooth gray to brownish bark and hairless twigs and leaf buds.

Leaves are crowded in terminal whorl-like clusters and have 2.1 – 3.9” long glandular stipules that are ⅓ to ½ as wide.

Leaf blades are rhombic-obovate, obovate, or oblanceolate, gradually tapering to a cordate, auriculate, or somewhat truncate base. They are 7.9 – 11.8” (-23.6”) long, about half as wide, with an obtuse, acute, or slightly acuminate tip. Lower surfaces are strongly glaucous and hairless; upper surfaces are deep green and hairless.

Fragrant flowers are 6.3 – 8.7” wide with two glandular spathaceous bracts. Tepals are creamy white, and the outermost tepals are greenish. Numerous stamens have white filaments.

Ellipsoid follicetums are 2.2 – 3.9” long, half as wide, and hairless, with long-beaked recurved, hairless follicles.

Often Confused With: Fraser Magnolia is often confused with Umbrella Magnolia, but that one has smaller, malodorous flowers, narrower follicetums, and it’s a slightly smaller tree that is usually multi-trunked rather than single-trunked. Sometimes it is confused with Bigleaf Magnolia, which has silky-pubescent twigs and leaf buds instead of hairless, its flowers are much larger, and its follicetums are silky-pubescent.

Other Common Names: Mountain Magnolia, Earleaf Cucumbertree, Umbrella Tree

Native Area: Endemic to the southern and central Appalachians in the USA from West Virginia to Kentucky, Tennessee, south to northern Georgia.

USDA Growing Zones: 6 – 9

Average Size at Maturity: 30 – 40 ft (to 75 ft) tall, 25 – 35 ft (to 61 ft) spread

Magnificent Magnolia Trees

Growing Magnolia Trees in Your Garden

Magnolia trees are a beautiful addition to any suitable landscape with their luxurious leaves and their massive showy flowers.

If you have decided to grow a magnolia tree, please do some research to ensure it will grow well in your yard.

First, understand your USDA Planting Zones and choose the right tree for your climate.

Most magnolias are hardy in zones 5 – 8, but several will do well in zone 4, and the Cucumber Tree will even grow well in zone 3. Others do well in zone 9.

Magnolias tend to prefer rich, organic, well-drained, slightly acidic soils, and most will not tolerate extremely wet or extremely dry soils. Some are slightly drought-tolerant, but none are suitable for xeriscaping.

Water well for the first year until it is established. Then water regularly throughout the growing season. If water is an issue in your yard, make a berm around your mulch to retain water longer.

The Sweet Bay Magnolia is unusual in that it will tolerate wet feet and can be planted in wet soils with poor drainage.

Be sure to topdress annually with compost to feed the trees.

Mulch with pine needles if necessary to increase the acidity rather than using peat moss which is environmentally destructive and unsustainable.

Most magnolias should be grown in full sun to partial shade. For a flowering tree, they do unusually well in partial shade, their canopy will be less dense, but they will still flower. Most will not tolerate full shade, though the Umbrella Magnolia will.

Check out How to Pick A Tree For Your Yard for more information on choosing the right tree for the right spot in your yard.

Magnolias can be pruned when young to produce multiple stems or keep them in a shrub form. But they should not be hard pruned when mature as this tends to introduce disease and pests.

For the most part, magnolias tend to be free of pests and diseases. However, leaf spot, powdery mildew, blight, and canker are the most common afflictions they occasionally acquire.

As always, it is best to choose a species native to your environment to enhance local biodiversity and wildlife values and prevent the risk of introducing potentially invasive species. Fortunately, only two magnolias I found during my research had some invasive potential. Do your research to find one suitable for your area.

Interesting Facts About Magnolias

Most magnolia trees live for about 80 – 120 years.

The oldest magnolia is a 400-year-old Saucer Magnolia from China.

The Magnoliaceae family evolved about 100 million years ago before bees had widely evolved to pollinate their flowers. They produce copious pollen, which is an important protein source for beetles and other insects. It is believed that their flowers evolved with beetle pollinators and became large and tough to avoid being damaged by the relatively large and heavy insects.

Human Uses of Magnolia Trees

Magnolias are widely cultivated worldwide as ornamental shrubs and trees in gardens, parks, landscapes, and sometimes as street trees. Some have been cultivated in China for well over 1000 years.

The wood of the larger tree species is used commercially to make furniture, crates, boxes, and veneer.

Magnolia is sometimes used medicinally for constipation, inflammation, anxiety, stress, depression, fever, headache, asthma, colds, and hay fever.

Native Americans used a decoction to treat skin and kidney problems.

Wildlife Values Magnolia Trees Provide

Songbirds often nest in the magnolia trees, and migratory birds will frequently use them for temporary shelter.

Numerous pollinating insects, including beetles, bees, flies, and butterflies, visit the flowers for their copious nectar and pollen.

Birds, squirrels, opossums, and raccoons routinely eat the seeds from the follicetums (fruits) of magnolia trees.

Deer sometimes feed on the leaves, twigs, and buds and will shelter under the trees at night.

The magnificent magnolias, with their luxurious leaves and massive flowers, are no longer a mystery to you! Now you can go out and use your skills to identify those around you or to plant one in your yard.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

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Lyrae Willis

Environmental Scientist & Plant Ecologist

Lyrae grew up in the forests of BC, Canada, where she got a BSc. in Environmental Sciences. Her whole life, she has loved studying plants, from the tiniest flowers to the most massive trees. She is currently researching native plants of North America and spends her time traveling, hiking, documenting, and writing. When not researching, she is homeschooling her brilliant autistic son, who travels with her and benefits from a unique hands-on education about the environment around him.

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