Here is everything you need to know about the Southern magnolia tree, what it looks like, how they reproduce, their growing conditions, and some of its other species.
Magnolia Grandiflora; known as either the southern magnolia tree or the bull bay tree, is a member of the magnoliaceae botanical family that is native to the most southeastern parts of the United States, but has been cultivated all over the world.
Like all magnolia trees, the southern magnolia tree is known for its exceptionally lovely, large green and glossy leaves, and even larger showy white flowers. These flowers can be smelled from far away, and give off an attractive lemon scent.
This magnificent tree can survive between 80 and 120 years in your garden, and are moderately fast growing; usually growing between 12 and 24 inches within the year.
After you’ve finished learning about magnolia Grandiflora, if you head on over to 101 Types of Trees you’ll find that we cover other magnolia species, and many other cool trees as well. Evergreens, rare trees, common trees, beautiful trees, and downright strange trees (yeah, I’m talking about you fig trees), we guarantee you’ll learn something new.
What do Southern Magnolia Trees Look Like?
Magnolia trees are known for having very shallow and wide-spreading root systems. It is important to keep this in mind when considering planting a magnolia tree near your house, as the roots can interfere with infrastructure.
They have shallow root systems because they usually only exist in conditions where soil is consistently moist, and so they don’t need to search for water supplies deep in the earth.
Southern magnolias are medium to large trees. They usually will grow to be 20-25 meters tall, though there are some exceptional trees that have reached 37 meters tall! They will be much taller when growing in the wild, rather than when they are a cultivated tree.
The southern magnolia tree is a single stem (or trunk) tree that branches out quite low down on the trunk. This creates a pyramidal shape with an open branch pattern. However, the leaves of this tree are so large, that the diameter of the leaves fill up the open branch pattern, creating a remarkable shade tree.
Magnolia trees are known for having very smooth bark that is light gray in color. They are covered with a small number of lenticels that create a little bit of texture. Lenticels are tiny openings on the stems of plants that allow gas exchange to occur. This is how oxygen is released.
Apart from their flowers, magnolia trees are also known for their leaves. The southern magnolia is an evergreen tree, meaning that it has foliage that will remain green and persist all year long, regardless of the season.
A southern magnolia leaf can be up to 8 inches long, and 4 inches wide. They are simple in shape with smooth margins. Leaves are a very dark, glossy green color, and have a stiff and leathery texture.
How do Southern Magnolia Trees Reproduce?
Magnolia trees have “perfect” flowers, meaning that they possess both male sexual characteristics, and female sexual characteristics.
A southern magnolia flower can be up to 12 inches wide, with between 6 and 12 petals. Petals have a waxy texture, and will be either a creamy white or light pink color. Flowers emerge from the tips of twigs of a mature tree in the early spring, and can persist for several months.
Following the beautiful spring and summer bloom, rose colored fruit will emerge from the flowers. These are cone shaped fruits that are 3-4 inches in length.
The seeds within the fruit are dispersed by birds and mammals after they eat the fruit and digest the seeds. 50% of seeds are ready to germinate, and species like squirrels, quails, turkey, and opossums help with seed dispersal.
Southern magnolia trees may start to produce flowers and fruit around the age of 10, though they will experience their peak flower production closer to the age of 25.
What are Some Other Magnolia Species?
The Lily Magnolia Tree (Magnolia Lilliflora)
Lily magnolia trees are a small tree or large shrub that is native to southwestern provinces in China. They also go by the names of Mulan magnolia, purple magnolia, red magnolia, tulip magnolia, or Jane magnolia.
This is a deciduous tree, meaning that they have leaves that do shed seasonally. However, in the case of magnolia trees, flowers actually emerge before the spring foliage does!
Lily magnolias are known for their exceptionally beautiful flowers. They bloom for a very long time, and can be very striking and vibrant colors of pink and purple.
The Mountain Magnolia Tree (Magnolia Fraseri)
Mountain magnolia trees are native to the southeastern United States, specifically in the Appalachian mountains regions. They also go by the name of Fraser magnolia, and earleaf cucumbertree.
These trees can grow to be up to 15 meters tall, and are a very popular cultivar because of their attractive shape, and showy white flowers.
These huge white flowers can be smelled from a very long ways away, and are said to have a very nice vanilla scent.
The Saucer Magnolia Tree (Magnolia x Soulangeana)
Saucer magnolia trees are a hybrid plant that was created to bear the absolute most magnificent magnolia flowers imaginable. These are the most commonly used magnolia tree in horticulture.
They are widely planted all over the planet, more commonly near coasts, and they bear showy flowers ranging from white, to pink, to purple. They are a multi stemmed large shrub type of tree.
The Star Magnolia Tree (Magnolia Stellata)
Star magnolia trees are a magnolia species that is native to certain areas of Japan. They are a very slow growing large shrub or small tree, only reaching 8 meters in height.
These trees are known for their lovely flowers and spring foliage. Though they have smaller flowers than other magnolia species, they are wonderfully pretty and either light pink or white.
The Sweetbay Magnolia Tree (Magnolia Virginiana)
Sweetbay magnolia trees are native to the Atlantic coastal plains of the United States. They also go by the names of sweet magnolia tree, laurel magnolia, swampbay, swamp magnolia, whitebay, or beaver tree.
There are large trees, sometimes reaching heights of 30 meters or more. They grow in lowlands and swamps, and are known for having incredibly smelling white flowers.
Where do Southern Magnolia Trees Grow?
The southern magnolia tree is native to the southeastern United States. They occur from Virginia to south-central Florida, and the region extends west towards eastern Texas as well.
These trees can commonly be found growing in the wild near bodies of water. Whether it be a swamp, lake, river, or bog, they prefer to grow where there is no risk of drought.
Their common growing zone also occurs in ravines, on low mountain slopes, wooded floodplains, hummocks, and on sandhills in maritime forests. They will grow in USDA zone 6 through 10.
In more sheltered habitats, they can grow to be a very large tree, whereas when they grow along coastal dunes, they will be more of a shrub.
Outside of their native range, southern magnolia trees have been cultivated in warmer regions across the United States, but will only grow so far north as Vancouver, British Columbia. They’ve also been cultivated in Mexico, and central and south America.
What are the Growing Conditions of the Southern Magnolia Tree?
Southern magnolia trees prefer to grow in soil types that are deep, and either loamy soil or sandy soil. These soils can be either acidic or neutral, as long as they are well drained.
The southern magnolia tree prefers to grow in full sun, though it can tolerate partial shade as a long as it receives a minimum amount of 4 hours of full sunlight per day.
Magnolia trees will always prefer to grow in areas that have a high amount of annual precipitation, and high humidity as well. They are not a drought tolerant tree.
How are Southern Magnolia Trees Used?
Southern magnolia tree wood is known for being very hard and very heavy. It is commonly used commercially to make furniture pallets. However, due to their high value as an ornamental tree, they are not a popular choice for timber production.
Magnolias make an excellent ornamental tree. In their native range they are a very common landscape tree, and can be found growing in gardens, parks, and larger public landscapes. This beautiful tree is valued for its attractive, glossy green foliage, and of course for its incomparably beautiful and fragrant flowers.