This large group of magnificent flowering trees includes species native to the South as well as many imported from Asia. They range in size from shrubby to enormous. Some are evergreen, while most are deciduous. Showy flowers appear in late winter, spring, or summer. Colors include white, pink, rose, red, purple, yellow, and coral. Many are powerfully fragrant. New selections and hybrids arrive every year. You'll find many at local nurseries, but mail-order nurseries have a wider selection.
EVERGREEN MAGNOLIAS. Our iconic Southern magnolia (M. grandiflora) is the first one of this type that comes to mind. The state flower of Mississippi and Louisiana, it combines huge, fragrant, white blossoms with large, glossy leaves. Few trees can match its year-round beauty, but it does have drawbacks. Unnamed seedlings often take 10 years or more after planting to start blooming. Dense shade and shallow roots make it impossible to grow grass beneath the canopy, and the roots often lift and crack pavement if the tree is planted between sidewalk and curb. Leaves drop 365 days a year. And since this native tree grows as wide as 40 ft., it takes up a lot of space.
A smaller Southern native, sweet bay (M. virginiana) is easier to fit into most gardens. Though mostly deciduous in the Upper and Middle South, it's evergreen in the Lower and Coastal South and more cold hardy than M. grandiflora.
New entries to this group are plants previously listed under the genus Michelia. These trees and shrubs hail from China and the Himalayas and are generally less cold hardy than other evergreen magnolias. They're renowned for their profuse, wonderfully fragrant flowers, which are borne among their leaves as opposed to the ends of the branches.
M. champaca (Michelia champaca). CHAMPACA. Shrub or tree. Zones CS, TS; USDA 9-11. To 1020 ft. tall and broad. Glossy, bright green, 10-in. leaves. Orange-yellow, 3-in. flowers with up to 20 segments are borne intermittently throughout the year, most often in winter and summer; their perfume is legendary. 'Alba' (M. alba) has white flowers.
M. doltsopa (Michelia doltsopa). Tree. Zones CS, TS; USDA 9-11. To 90 ft. tall in its native Himalayas; closer to 40 ft. tall in the South. Varies from bushy (nearly as wide as high) to narrow and upright (about half as broad as tall). Choose plants for desired form, then prune to shape. Thin-textured, leathery, dark green leaves 38 in. long, 13 in. wide. In winter, furry brown buds open to blossoms ranging from cream colored to white, with a slight green tinge at the base; they are 57in. across, with 12 to 16 segments, each 1 in. wide.
M. figo (Michelia figo). BANANA SHRUB. Shrub. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. Slow growing to 68 ft. tall (possibly to 15 ft.) and about two-thirds as wide. Densely clothed with glossy, leathery leaves. Plant blooms most heavily in spring but produces scattered flowers throughout summer. Blossoms are 1 in. wide, creamy yellow with a thin, brownish purple border on each segment. Notable feature is the powerful, fruity fragrance, like that of ripe bananas; the perfume is strongest in a warm, wind-free spot. Choice plant for entry or patio. 'Port Wine' has rose to maroon flowers.
M. xfoggii (Michelia x foggi). Shrub. Zones CS, TS; USDA 9-11. Group of hybrids between M. figo and M. doltsopa. 'Allspice' grows 1518 ft. tall, 68 ft. wide, with glossy, dark green foliage; from spring to summer bears fruity-scented, 112-in., light yellow flowers bordered in maroon. 'Jack Fogg', about 18 ft. tall and 68 ft. wide, has fragrant spring flowers of white, with each segment bordered in purplish pink.
M. grandiflora. SOUTHERN MAGNOLIA. US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Classic Southern tree. Pure white blooms, aging to buff; large (810 in. across), powerfully fragrant. Species and its selections bloom throughout. Useful street or lawn tree, big container plant, or wall or espalier plant. Named seedlings vary greatly in size, shape, and blooming. Grafted named plants usually bloom at younger age. Grows to 80 ft. tall and 60 ft. wide. Can grow as a multitrunked tree. Glossy, leathery leaves. Attracts birds. Twig borers can be a cosmetic problem, causing branch tips to die and fall off.
'Alta'. Compact, columnar to 20 ft. tall and 9 ft. wide in 10 years, eventually almost twice that. Slow growing, good for small spaces, as screen, or on streets. Glossy, green leaves with rusty undersides.
'Bracken's Brown Beauty'. Pyramidal to 35 ft. tall and 15 ft. wide. Hardier than most other selections. Flowers are smaller than species but still showy. Compact, full shape. Lustrous, dark green leaves are rusty brown underneath. A top selection.
'D. D. Blanchard'. A handsome pyramidal selection to 50 ft. tall or more and 2535 ft. wide. Lustrous dark green leaves are orange-toned brown on undersides.
'Edith Bogue'. A shapely, vigorous tree, 35 ft. tall and 20 ft. wide, and one of the hardiest selections of M. grandiflora; has withstood 24F. Excellent for the Upper South but not a top choice elsewhere. Keep it out of strong winds. Young plants are slower to come into heavy bloom than some other selections.
'Little Gem'. Slow growing to 2025 ft. tall and 1015 ft. wide. Small (5- to 6-in.-wide) flowers from spring through late summer (fewer blooms form during midsummer heat). Narrow form makes it good in a container, as an espalier, or in a confined area. Blooms at very young age. Half-size leaves are dark green above, rusty beneath. Reportedly less hardy than the species. Quite susceptible to twig borers.
'Majestic Beauty'. Very large flowers (to 1 ft. across). Vigorous, dense-branching street or shade tree of broadly pyramidal form grows to 3550 ft. tall and 20 ft. wide. Leaves are exceptionally long, broad, and heavy. Most luxuriant of the Southern magnolias.
'St. Mary'. Usually grows to 20 ft. tall; much larger in old age. A heavy producer of 8- to 10-in. flowers on small tree. Fine where standard-size magnolia would grow too large and too fast. Left alone, it will form a big, dense bush. Staked and pruned, it makes a small tree. Good plant for containers and espalier.
'Teddy Bear'. Compact, upright to 1620 ft. tall and 1012 ft. high. Good for small spaces or as screen. Glossy green leaves with rusty undersides.
'Timeless Beauty'. A natural hybrid between M. grandiflora and M. virginiana. Creamy white, fragrant flowers to 10 in. wide. Blooms in spring and summer. Extremely dense crown, to 1520 ft. tall and 2025 ft. wide, with spreading branches.
M. virginiana. SWEET BAY. US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Creamy white, fragrant, nearly globular blossoms are 23 in. wide. Late spring to late summer. Prefers moist, acid soil. Grows in swamps in eastern U.S. Deciduous shrub in the upper South; semievergreen to evergreen elsewhere. Multistemmed. Grows 1020 ft tall and 2 ft. wide but can reach upwards of 40 ft. tall. Leaves bright green above, nearly white beneath. Twigs and branches are bright green.
'Henry Hicks' is narrow and upright, 4050 ft. tall and 1525 ft. wide. Stays evergreen into the upper South.
'Moonglow' ('Jim Wilson') is a bit hardier and more upright (3540 ft. tall, 1518 ft. wide) than the species, with glossy, dark green leaves. Grows fast and starts blooming young.
M. v. australis. SOUTHERN SWEET BAY. MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 7-11. White, lemon-scented blossoms, 24 in. wide. Late spring to summer. Single trunked with upright, open habit; glossy green, silver-backed leaves. Grows to 4550 ft. tall and 1520 ft. wide. Evergreen to deciduous. Gets much larger in woodland setting, sometimes to 80 ft. tall.
'Green Shadow' is an oval, hardy selection to 30 ft. high and half as wide. Remains evergreen into the Upper South.
'Sweet Thing' is dwarf and compact to 12 ft. high and about half as wide. Can be grown as a hedge or screen.
'Tensaw' is compact, upright, growing to 1020 ft. tall and half as wide with smaller leaves.
DECIDUOUS MAGNOLIAS. This class runs the gamut from those grown for tulip- or lily-shaped spring flowers (M. acuminata subcordata, M. denudata, M. lilifora, M. x soulangiana) to those with star-shaped spring flowers (M. x loebneri, M. stellata) to those grown principally for their large, imposing leaves (M. acuminata, M. macrophylla, M. tripetela). All are hardy, adaptable, and easy to grow. They range in size from large shrubs to big shade trees.
A drawback to spring bloomers in the South is that some, principally M. denudata, M. stellata, and M. x soulangiana, bloom so early during mild winters that late freezes brown and kill the flowers. When shopping for selections of these species, choose those that bloom later in spring. See notes in the descriptions for the ones that do. M. acumina, M. macrophylla, and M. tripetala are native to the South.
M. acuminata. CUCUMBER TREE. US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Grows 6080 ft. tall and 30 ft. wide. Greenish yellow flowers to 3 in. wide; not conspicuous. Appear after leaves in late spring, summer. Handsome reddish seed capsules with red seeds. Dense shade or lawn tree. Dislikes hot, dry winds. 'Brenda' bears deep yellow blooms on a compact, rounded tree, 12 ft. tall and wide. 'Koban Dori' is a smaller selection, to 1520 ft. tall, with canary-yellow flowers. M. a. subcordata is shrubbier (2535 ft. tall by 2030 ft. wide) with larger, showier blooms with mild lemony scent. Blossoms appear as leaves expand. M.a.s. 'Miss Honeybee' has larger, pale yellow flowers.
M. denudata (M. heptapeta). YULAN MAGNOLIA. US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Fragrant white flowers, sometimes tinged purple at base. Blossoms are erect; somewhat tulip shaped, 56 in. long, spreading to 67 in. Early bloom on base branches; often a few flowers appear in summer. Good cut flower. Tends toward irregular form; good against dark background or open sky in informal garden or at woodland edge. Grows 35 ft. tall and 30 ft. wide. 'Gere' blooms late, avoiding frosts. 'Double Diamond' has more petals than species.
M. liliflora (M. quinquepeta). LILY MAGNOLIA. US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Tulip-shaped flowers 35 in. wide are white on the inside, purplish outside. Blooms over long spring, summer season. Grows 12 ft. tall and 15 ft. wide. Good for shrub border; strong vertical effect in big flower border. Spreads slowly by suckering. Leaves 46 in. long. Blooms of 'Gracilis', 'Nigra', and 'O'Neill' are dark purplish red outside, pink inside.
M. Kosar-De Vos hybrids (Little Girl series). US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Hybrids between M. liliiflora 'Nigra' and M. stellata 'Rosea'; bred to bloom later than M. stellata, thus avoiding frost damage. Star-shaped flowers range from deep to pale purple (sometimes with pink or white interior), depending on selection. Trees bloom in spring before leafout; sporadic rebloom in summer. Erect, shrubby growers to 12 ft. tall and 15 ft. wide. Selections bear girls' names such as 'Ann' (deep purple-pink), 'Betty' (rose-pink), 'Jane' (red-purple, white inside), and 'Susan' (purplish red). Use in shrub-border or singly in lawn. Excellent performers.
M. x loebneri. LOEBNER MAGNOLIA. US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Hybrids between M. kobus and M. stellata that grow slowly to 1215 ft. tall (can reach 50 ft. tall) and wide. Narrow, strap-shaped flower segments similar to those of M. stellata, but generally fewer and somewhat longer and wider. Blooms 46 in. wide appear before leaves in midspring. Some selections are fragrant. 'Ballerina', white with faint pink blush, and taller, pure white 'Spring Snow' are both fragrant. Very lightly scented are 'Leonard Messel', with pink blooms from darker buds, and 'Merrill' ('Dr. Merrill'), a vigorous, free-flowering, white-blossomed form. Use in lawn, shrub border, at woodland edge.
M. macrophylla. BIGLEAF MAGNOLIA. US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Fragrant white flowers to 16 in. across in late spring and early summer, after leaf-out. Showy tree with leaves 13 ft. long and 912 in. wide. Grows slowly to 3050 ft. tall and 2030 ft. wide. Needs to stand alone. Be sure to give it some shade. Old Southern favorite. M. m. ashei is a shrubbier version of bigleaf magnolia, forming a 10- to 20-ft.-tall by 15-ft.-wide, multistemmed plant. Creamy white flowers may be spotted with red. Valuable for its tropical effect where space is limited. Very hardy.
M. sieboldii. OYAMA MAG- NOLIA. US, MS; USDA 6-7. Grows 615 ft. tall and wide; good choice for small gardens. Leaves are 36 in. long. Blooms from late spring through late summer. Flower buds resembling white Japanese lanterns open into cup-shaped, 4-in.-wide, fragrant, white blossoms centered with crimson stamens; bright pink seedpods follow. Nice planted on a hill, where you can look up into the nodding flowers. Best in partial shade. 'Colossus' has larger, semidouble to double blooms. 'Harold Epstein' has semidouble flowers, which are sometimes fully double in late summer to fall. 'Michiko Renge' bears semidouble flowers.
M. x soulangiana. SAUCER MAGNOLIA, TULIP TREE. US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. White to pink or purplish red, fragrant flowers variable in form and size (510 in. wide). Blooms from late winter into spring, both before leaves emerge and as they open. Grows to 25 ft. tall and wide. Good lawn plant; good anchor plant in big container plantings. Medium green, rather coarse-looking leaves 46 in. long or longer. Seedlings highly variable; look for named selections (especially later-blooming ones for frost-prone regions).
'Alba Superba' ('Alba'). Purple-suffused buds open to large, nearly pure white flowers. Early blooming. Rather more upright and slightly taller than most selections.
'Alexandrina'. Blooms are deep purplish pink outside, white inside, to 10 in. across. Subject to bloom damage in late freezes. Large, rather heavy leaves.
'Black Tulip'. Bears large, goblet-shaped blooms of deep wine-red. Slender, upright grower (30 ft. tall, 15 ft. wide). Excellent for small gardens. In mild climates, can be grown in containers when young. Can be pruned as a hedge.
'Brozzonii'. White blossoms very slightly flushed purplish rose at base; 8 in. across. Late. One of the most handsome white-flowered magnolias. Vigorous tree.
'Lennei'. Bears very large, globlet-shaped blossoms that are deep purple outside, white inside. Spreading, vigorous plant. Late bloom helps it escape frosts. 'Lennei Alba' (M. lennei 'Alba') is similar but with earlier, pure white, slightly smaller blooms.
'Lilliputian'. Grows to just 18 ft. tall and 1015 ft. wide. Good where a smaller magnolia is called for. Flowers are pink outside, white inside, somewhat smaller than those of other selections. Late blooming.
'Rustica Rubra'. Bears large, 8-in.-wide, cup-shaped, deep reddish purple flowers. Blooms somewhat past midseason. Big (6-in.) dark rose seedpods. Vigorous grower for large areas. More treelike than many selections.
M. stellata. STAR MAGNOLIA. US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. White flowers to 3 in. across, with 1218 narrow, strap-shaped segments. Profuse bloom comes very earlylate winter to early spring, before leafout. Some selections are fragrant.
Slow growing, shrubby to 10 ft. tall and 20 ft. wide. Use for borders, entryway gardens, edge of woods. Plant this early bloomer where you can see flowers from indoors. Quite hardy, but flowers often nipped by frost in colder part of range. Fine texture in twig, leaf. Fair yellow-and-brown fall leaf color.
'Centennial'. Bears white blossoms faintly marked pink, 5 in. across, with 4050 segments. It's like an improved 'Water Lily'.
'Dawn'. Has white flowers with 25 or more segments, each with a longitudinal pink stripe.
'Jane Platt'. Grows a little bigger than the species (1215 ft. tall by 1012 ft. wide) and has rich pink, 4- to 5-in. blossoms with 4050 segments.
'Rosea'. PINK STAR MAGNOLIA. Has pink buds; flowers open pink-flushed white, age to plain white. Various plants are sold under this name.
'Royal Star'. Grows quickly to 1820 ft. tall and 15 ft. wide, with fragrant white blooms with 2530 segments. It blooms 2 weeks later than species.
'Rubra'. Bears rosy pink blooms to 5 in. across and is more treelike in form than other selections.
'Water Lily'. Has pink buds opening to very fragrant white blossoms to 5 in. across, with 4050 segments. Blooms later and is faster growing than most star magnolias.
M. tripetela. UMBRELLA MAGNOLIA. US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Greenish white blossoms are up to 10 in. across with purple stamens and heavy fragrance. Grows 1035 ft. tall and 1520 ft. wide. Huge leaves cluster at the ends on the branches. Vigorous and unkempt, with open and irregular crown; difficult to site in the garden. Large red seedpods.
NEW COLOR MAGNOLIAS. As if the blooms of older deciduous magnolias weren't spectacular enough, breeders have been working hard to create even more dazzling forms with amazing new colorsyellow, coral, salmon, red, and blackish purple. Doing so usually demands complex crosses of multiple species, such as M. acuminata, M. liliflora, M. sprengeri, as well as their selections.
'Ambrosia'. US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Multicolored flowers are yellow with green shading and washed with pink. Grows 15-20 ft. tall.
'Athene'. US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-8. Large (810 in.) cup-and-saucer-shaped blooms; rosy purple at base, shading to pale pink, with ivory white interior. Richly fragrant. Grows 1825 ft. tall and wide. Moderate to fast growth. Flowers well when young.
'Black Beauty'. US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Tulip-shaped flowers are dark purple outside, white inside. Blooms in late spring, escaping frost damage. Grows 1525 ft. tall and 15 ft. wide.
'Butterflies'. US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Produces many 4- to 5-in., light yellow flowers with red stamens. Blooms in midspring, before leaves emerge. Upright and pyramidal when young; later spreading. Grows 20 ft. tall and 15 ft. wide. Leaves 8 in. long, medium to dark green, sparsely hairy. Very hardy.
'Coral Lake'. US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Large (7 in. across), unique blossoms in a blend of coral-pink tones shading into vertical yellow stripes. Blooms late but before leaves expand. Grows 2025 ft. tall and 810 ft. wide. Very upright growth habit.
'Daphne'. US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Long-lasting, deep yellow blooms held above the foliage. Reportedly one of the best yellow magnolias. Upright tree 1020 ft. tall.
'Daybreak'. US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Huge (810 in.), very fragrant, bright rose-pink flowers. Blooms in late spring, escaping frost damage. Narrow form to 18 ft. tall and 4 ft. wide; useful in small lots, side yards.
'Elizabeth'. US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Fragrant, soft yellow flowers, 67 in. wide. Color is paler in mild-winter areas. Blossoms appear before or with the leaves. Grows to at least 40 ft. tall and 20 ft. wide as single-trunked tree or multitrunked shrub-tree. Hardy.
'Flamingo'. US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Coral-pink blossoms, up to 1012 in. wide. Pyramidal tree, 1820 ft. tall, 8 ft. wide.
'Galaxy'. US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Abundant bright red-purple, slightly fragrant, goblet-shaped blossoms to 10 in. across. Blooms in midspring, before leaves emerge but usually after last frost. Fast-growing, broadly conical tree to 40 ft. tall and 25 ft. wide.
'Genie'. US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Blackish red buds open to dark maroon blossoms; curled edges are lighter magenta, 10 in. wide. Flowers appear before leaves, repeat in summer and are lightly fragrant. Grows 1013 tall and 5 ft. wide.
'Golden Gift'. US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Deep yellow, 2- to 5-in.-wide blooms produced over a long period in spring. Grows 815 ft. tall and 510 ft. wide.
'Rose Marie'. US, MS, LS; USDA 6-8. Large (9-in.-wide), deep pink blossoms with lighter interior; appear after the leaves. Light lemony fragrance. Grows 810 ft. tall and 8 ft. wide.
'Royal Splendor'. US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Long season of reddish pink blooms with lighter pink interior. Grows 1520 ft. tall, half as wide.
'Sunspire'. US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Medium yellow blooms appear before the leaves but later in the season; long-lasting. Narrow, columnar tree, 1520 ft. tall, half as wide.
'Vulcan'. US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Showy, ruby-red blossoms to 1012 in. across. Flowers borne in tree's younger years may be smaller and paler than those on older trees. Blooms in spring, before leaf-out. Open form when young, becoming more rounded with age. Grows 25 ft. tall and wide.
'Woodsman'. US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Multicolored blossoms in blended shades of yellow, green, and pink appear after leaves. Grows 2530 ft. tall and 20 ft. wide.
'Yellow Bird'. US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Deepest yellow color of the yellow hybrids. Slight green tinge at base of erect, 3-in.-long flower segments. Blooms for 23 weeks in early to midspring, as leaves emerge. Upright and pyramidal when young, broadly oval when mature. Grows 40 ft. tall and 20 ft. wide. Furrowed bark.