What is a Mountain Magnolia Tree?

Increase your knowledge of mountain magnolia trees, what they look like, how they vary from the other types of magnolia trees, where they grow, and their growing conditions.

This is a close look at a blooming mountain magnolia tree.

Magnolia Fraseri

You may have heard the mountain magnolia tree called by a different name. Folks also call it a mountain-oread, an ear leaf cucumbertree, and sometimes the Fraser magnolia tree as well. The scientific name for this tree comes from a Scottish botanist named John Fraser, who is responsible for bringing many wonderful North American plants to Europe.

This flowering tree is native to the southeastern parts of the United States, along the Atlantic and Gulf coastal plains, as well as in the southern Appalachian mountains.

Mountain magnolia trees really only have one purpose, and that is to be looked at. These trees have high ornamental value for their large glossy leaves, beautiful crown shape, and of course, their incredibly showy white flowers.

Mountain magnolias come in two varieties: mountain Magnolia fraseri var fraseri (which are native to the southern Appalachian mountains) and mountain magnolia var pyramidata (which are from the coastal plains).

If you’re interested in trees, head on over to 101 Types of Trees from around the world. We’ve got more members of the magnolia family, we cover birch trees, hemlock trees, pine trees, maple trees, and pretty much any other type of tree you could think of!!!

Related: Southern Magnolia Tree | Sweetbay Magnolia Tree | Lily Magnolia Tree

Table of Contents

What do Mountain Magnolia Trees Look Like?

Root System

Magnolia trees are known for having very shallow root systems that are wide-spreading. Some may consider these roots as being invasive because they will travel wherever there is a water source. Say that the water source was a crack in some plumbing piping, they could certainly do damage.

Magnolia tree roots rarely grow any deeper than 16 inches into the soil, and they will sometimes spread up to 4 times the distance of the width of the crown. Keep this in mind when planting a magnolia tree, as they may need more space than you think! These roots are very long and flexible, kind of like ropes.

Dimensions

Mountain magnolia trees are a smaller magnolia species. Whereas some will grow to be over 30 meters tall, the mountain magnolia will commonly only gain heights of 15 meters. They have rather narrow trunks that can be anywhere from 12-16 inches, depending on the height of the tree.

Growth Pattern

The mountain magnolia tree is basal branching, with the trunk splitting into multiple large branches quite low down on the trunk. This generous spread creates a very airy crown, which is necessary for the large size of their leaves.

Bark

This is a close look at the bark of a mountain magnolia tree.

Mountain magnolia tree bark is a gray/brown color and is covered in horizontal lenticels that have kind of a warty or scaly texture.

Foliage

Magnolia trees have very large leaves. The mountain magnolia tree has deciduous leaves that are very large, sometimes reaching nearly 12 inches!

A magnolia leaf is a deep glossy green color on the top side of the leaf, and it is a glaucous blue/green color on the underside of the leaf. Leaves will turn yellow in the fall, then brown right before they fall off.

Magnolia leaves are oblong to obovate in shape with broadleaf bases with a smooth margin. They grow in crowds at the tops of branches and create a somewhat whorl pattern. They emerge in the early spring.

How do Mountain Magnolia Trees Reproduce?

Flowers

The most noticeable thing about the magnolia tree is its stunning and showy flowers. Magnolia flowers are “perfect” flowers, meaning that they possess both female sexual characteristics and male sexual characteristics.

The pollen from the stamen on the flower can be windblown or transported by a pollinator to the stamen of either the same flower, flower on the same plant, or flower on a different plant. These flowers are very fragrant, which helps attracts bees and other pollination insects.

Mountain magnolia flowers are very large, sometimes 12 inches wide, with 6 petals. A flower bud will bloom in the late spring or early summer, right after the spring foliage emerges.

Fruit

Once a mountain magnolia tree is fertilized, it will produce fruit in the form of a woody oblong structure, similar to a cone. These cones are covered in pod-like follicles. Each follicle contains 2 seeds that hang out of the cone by a thin thread. Fruit matures in the late summer.

Sexual Maturity

Mountain magnolia trees will start to produce flowers after about 10 years of age and will experience good seed crops every 4-5 years after that. They will experience their most productive years up until the age of 50. Magnolia trees will live to be 80-120 years old depending on the species.

What are Some Other Magnolia Tree Species?

The Bigleaf Magnolia Tree (Magnolia Macrophylla

This is a close look at a bigleaf magnolia tree.

Bigleaf magnolia trees are native to the southeastern United States and northern Mexico. They have both the largest leaves and the largest flowers of any tree that is native to North America. Leaves can be over 30 inches long, with a tree height of 20 meters.

The Cucumber Tree (Magnolia Acuminata

This is a close look at a mature Cucumber magnolia Tree.

Cucumber trees are not actually the trees that grow cucumbers, but rather they are a magnolia tree that produces fruit that is oddly shaped like a cucumber. These trees are also called blue magnolias and are native to the northeastern part of the United States and southeastern Canada. These trees have conspicuous flowers that only grow at the very top of the tree crown.

The Umbrella Magnolia Tree (Magnolia Tripetala

This is a close look at the cone of an Umbrella Magnolia Tree.

Umbrella magnolia trees are named after their large clustered leaves that grow on the tips of branches, and that create an umbrella-shaped canopy. They are native to the Appalachian Mountains and the Ozarks. They grow to 15 meters in height with showy white flowers that have a citrus scent.

The Saucer Magnolia Tree (Magnolia x Soulangeana

This is a close look at a blooming Saucer Magnolia Tree.

Saucer magnolias are a hybrid magnolia tree that was designed specifically for large leaves and showy flowers. They are a very popular large shrub or small tree that is commonly grown on the east coast and west coast of North America. Their flowers bloom very early in the year and can be either pink or purple.

The Southern Magnolia Tree (Magnolia Grandiflora

This is a mature Southern Magnolia Tree at a garden.

Southern magnolia trees are sometimes called bull bay trees. They are a large tree that is native to the southeastern United States and grow only in lowland subtropical forests. These are a very tall magnolia species, gaining heights over 35 meters, and have large white flowers that have a lemon scent.

The Sweetbay Magnolia Tree (Magnolia Virginiana

This is a blooming Sweetbay Magnolia Tree in a garden.

Sweetbay magnolia trees are also called laurel trees or swamp magnolia trees. They are native trees to the Atlantic coastal plain. They have smaller leaves than most other magnolia species but have stunning cream-colored flowers that have a vanilla scent.

Where do Mountain Magnolia Trees Grow?

This is a close look at a forest with mountain magnolia trees.

Magnolia trees are tropical plants, and will only grow in areas that experience a lot of annual precipitation and warm temperatures. Mountain magnolia trees can be found in the southeastern United States, along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

Magnolia trees are water-loving, and will therefore be found growing in rich coves, and near bodies of water. At higher altitudes, they can be found growing in the lower third of mountainous regions.

What are the Growing Conditions of Mountain Magnolia Trees?

This is a close look at a mountain magnolia tree growing on the cliff.

Soil

Mountain magnolias experience their best growth in rich mesic soils that are moist and well-drained.

Sun Exposure

Flowering plants are sun-loving, but too much sun may damage their lovely flowers. They experience their best growth in partial shade.

Water Level

Magnolia trees need lots of moisture and require enough annual precipitation to keep their soil moist all year long.

How is Mountain Magnolia Trees Used?

Ornamental

Mountain magnolias have very weak wood that splits very low in the trunk, and therefore they are not used commercially other than for ornamental purposes. They are an extremely popular landscape tree for parks and gardens for their showy white flowers and large glossy leaves.

Wildlife

The flowers of the magnolia tree attract many different kinds of pollinators. Their fruit is eaten by various wildlife species, like turkeys, quails, opossums, and squirrels. These animals help disperse the seeds of the tree by eating the fruit.

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